What Stewardship Means to Me

02 Apr 2019
Photo credit: Scott Munn

 by David Hodd, Land Stewardship Manager

We have had some exciting news recently with new properties as part of our Lasting Landscapes Campaign, but securement is not the culmination of our conservation work, it is the beginning of it. We are committed to stewarding these properties in perpetuity – and with me new in post, it makes sense to take a look at what that entails.

To start, stewardship requires a recognition of the features we are conserving and a sound understanding of the factors that affect them at each property. To conserve these natural values we then need to prevent, remove, or reduce those factors, or, occasionally provide them if they are needed. And, then, we need to monitor for changes to confirm our interventions (or lack of) have conserved those natural values. Effective stewardship involves planning for the long-term, but it also means not flinching difficult decisions and acting quickly when you need to. Better stewardship is guided by (and seeks out) science, but too often we have to make judgement calls with inadequate information. Too often these judgements have lasting consequences. Ultimately, we want to get to a point where our only action is monitoring, but if there will never be a need or willingness to act, then there is no need to monitor.

Stewardship will address boundary incursions & illegal occupations, will undo the impacts of any sort of human activity, including provide access, which is compatible with the natural values being conserved. Properties often need a phase of restoration – for example removal of invasive species.

Photo credit: Scott Munn

The tools of the trade are as diverse as the activities involved: kayak, ATV, chainsaw, trimmers, tree scribes, loppers, crowbars and spades, tractors, loaders and hay bailers, tarps, trash pickers & bags, boxes of matches, cameras, binoculars, clipboards, spreadsheets and GIS. When restoring some heathland in the UK, we used exactly the same machine that had destroyed it 40 years earlier to create dairy pasture. We even had the same pair of hands operating the machine.

So far so complex, yet stewardship cannot be achieved by the technician and technocrat alone. At its essence, stewardship is about protecting value, which is much about nurturing society’s regard for these natural values, as it is about nurturing the natural values on our properties. For me, this is why the Property Guardians are so important – it does both at the same time.

As Aldo Leopold wrote, “A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke [of the axe] he is writing his signature on the face of his land.”

My hope is that Property Guardians get this humble awareness every time they steward our properties. For more information about our Property Guardian & Land Stewardship programs or to get involved, click here.

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