Last Friday our local National Trust Ranger Rob Holden visited Kelston Roundhill.
The National Trust is the UK’s second-largest landowner (after the Crown Estate) so it has a vast body of knowledge and resources covering every sort of land-management issue from paths, signage, and public access through leisure, public art to looking after badgers and dealing with invasive species.
It also has a clear policy position and a campaigning role. Among many other things it’s trying to reach out beyond the usual dedicated walkers and ramblers to get the wider public, especially families and children out to discover landscapes, countryside and the spirit of place. So it has placed itself on front line of reconnecting children
with nature, trying to reverse what has started to be known as Nature Deficit Disorder (click for more). The Trust owns 500 acres of woodlands and species-rich grasslands around the Bath world heritage site. Its Bath Skyline walk is the most popular walk on its web site. Rob himself has years of experience in land management and nature conservation on land open to the public, and in balancing the different demands of natural species, visitors, and government regulation.
He’s responsible for stewardship of the NT land around Bath, opening it up for public involvement, promoting it and making it more child friendly with natural activity areas. As well as his knowledge of different species, conservation techniques and policy Rob is deeply familiar how to get the best out of managing public access; in a previous role he was responsible the the NT land around Glastonbury.
He immediately recognises and understands the spirit of Kelston Roundhill, and the sorts of issues we face. He works locally with the same network of people at places like Avon Wildlife Trust and Natural England. He’s full of suggestions about respecting the spirit of the place, land management, and helping people through it with community engagement, sensitive signage and appropriate artwork.
He has a strong sense of the continuity of this place with the rest of the Bath skyline and the wider landscape. These places have always been linked and connected, regardless of being nominally in different ownership at different times.
One suggestion Rob made was that we place a geocache. It turns out there is a whole geocache scene of which most of us are probably blissfully unaware. It seems a harmless and fun way to use your smartphone which would do a lot to make the landscape more discoverable, especially for those young children for whom the word “walk” produces a bizarre allergic reation.
People have their gripes about the National Trust – formulaic shops, clunky marketing practices etc (I recall one Dorset village making T-shirts replacing the T in National with a Z). But the scale of its achievement is remarkable. It’s one of those one-off peculiarly British institutions that has made an immense contribution to solving a profound emerging social, economic and spiritual problem.
From a position of knowing relatively little about all the things they need to know to do their work successfully the National Trust, rather like the Duchy of Cornwall, seems pretty much an exemplary steward of the land and assets it looks after. Their aims may be specific and different from ours but their policies on all matters we discussed seem well thought out and backed by immense resources and experience. So it’s a connection we’re happy to have made and to maintain. Kelston Roundhill is part of this wider landscape, and it makes complete sense to be engaged with the major institutions involved in caring for other parts of that wider landscape.