We’ve worked incredibly hard for the opportunity to deliver positive environmental and social impact. But when you’re seeking to create change, you have to recognise that you are inviting critique, criticism, and sadly even, attack.
Working in the environment sector is an incredible privilege. The ability to wake up every morning knowing that you’re doing something meaningful is very special, but for some it can mean carrying a heavy weight. If you’re actively working on the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis then the realities of what is happening right now, and the knowledge that the worst is yet to come, can weigh heavily.
For many, especially those early in their career, this weight can be exacerbated by the criticism they receive with every step they make, even though those steps are being taken in an attempt to achieve positive improvement. This criticism often arises because it threatens the status quo enjoyed by others, which may have, at least in part contributed to the climate and biodiversity emergency we now face.
I don’t know if this will help those of you reading this who are faced with similar challenges, but our brilliant Head of Operations, Dave Keir has a valuable perspective that has stayed with me for many years, one that I think is hugely applicable to the battle against climate change (as well as any challenge in general):
We don’t HAVE to hear criticism; we GET to hear it!
For too long, we have collectively taken too much from the planet with little to no regard for the impact we’re having, and the sad reality is that most people are unknowing of their own impact. I’m sure we are too. This last week has been one where we’ve been privileged to receive a range of challenge and criticism but, thankfully, we know this means we’re having impact and creating positive change. So we need to keep moving forward.
Here are some examples of the recent criticisms we’ve been privileged to receive and the positive impact we hope to deliver by taking the positions we have…
1 – We’ve been criticised for managing estates in a different way that our tenants and local private landowners are used to or would do themselves were they in our position.
Positive Impact – More families are living in the rural environment as a result of us opening up properties for rent and ultimately our work is intended to deliver significant longer-term benefits for them personally as well the environment and the wider community – but it’s certainly not easy and we not suggesting that we’ve been perfect in our delivery.
2 – We’ve been criticised for not sharing more information with our neighbours about our plans for the estate over the months, years and decades to come.
Positive Impact –We will always listen to local opinions, but we won’t always agree. And we can’t share information we don’t have, especially about decision we haven’t yet made. But, despite being a private landowner, we are and will continue to be committed to radical transparency by sharing as much as we can as soon as we can with those people who have expressed an interest in helping deliver positive impact.
3 – We’ve been criticised for not allowing fox hunting on our land.
Positive Impact – Our ownership of land has removed opportunities for unsustainable hunting or sporting activities and we are finding new ways for people and wildlife to thrive in the rural environment.
4 – We’ve been criticised for not supporting hound trailing.
Positive Impact – We believe in removing damaging activities from our land – which includes hound trailing – because its inconsistent with our conservation objectives. By doing so, we will ensure more land can support the restoration of natural processes, giving flora, fauna, and fungi the time they need to recover from the impacts of us.
5 – We’ve been criticised for not supporting the shooting of pheasants, grouse and other associated ‘game’ birds.
Positive Impact – We’re a conservation company and we don’t believe in killing things if it can be avoided. We’ve stopped grouse shooting on the hills of two of our large Scottish Estates and transitioned away from a 25,000 bird pheasant shoot in Devon. However, we recognise the need for and will undertake conservation-focused deer management as part of our environmental restoration plans.
6 – We’ve been criticised for not supporting the burning of bracken on the hillside.
Positive Impact – We believe in restoring natural processes and do not support the burning of bracken as it causes significant damage to everything in its path. We have stopped burning across our entire portfolio, most notably on Dartmoor, and in the Scottish Borders and Highlands. The reality of climate change is that we will see more wildfires in this country and across the globe. Our work will focus on reforesting and rewetting the landscape, keeping more life in the land rather than burning it away.
7 – We’ve been criticised for “hating farmers” because we plan on reducing sheep numbers across our estate.
Positive Impact – Over the last two years, in the process of acquiring significant landholdings across the country, we have also assumed responsibility for over 4,000 sheep. Whilst we’re hugely supportive of local produce, we have found that, at our estates, large-scale sheep farming is unviable environmentally and economically. We’re therefore committed to reducing sheep numbers and, as a consequence, hope to create opportunities for new entrant farmers to manage high quality, organic animals and increase growing space that can supply local communities in a more regenerative and sustainable way.
8 – We’ve been criticised for not welcoming enough people onto our estates, but also for welcoming too many.
Positive Impact – We believe that for people to truly connect with nature and become champions of the environment they have to experience it. We’re also committed to creating special opportunities for people to holiday at home rather than abroad, thus reducing plane travel and, as a result, lowering the carbon footprint of adventure and relaxation. We have wonderful ecotourism offerings in Devon and Norfolk and are exploring a hugely exciting collaboration with an organisation advocating sensitive wild camping. The reality however is that too many people (and this number can be very small) can cause significant damage and, as such, we are trying to find the right balance between accessibility and protection.
9 – We’ve been criticised for planting too many trees and also not enough trees.
Positive Impact – We have planted around 10,000 trees so far and our ambition is to plant millions of trees in the coming years on land we own and manage for conservation activities. We are not alone in recognising the huge value of trees in the natural landscape. Every government across the UK now has extensive tree planting targets that they’re not hitting. We’re committed to planting more trees but equally committed to planting the right numbers and species of trees in the right places and for the right reasons. Whilst we recognise the need for more UK-grown timber, we’re not foresters and will only plant native biodiversity-led woodlands – but (in the spirit of radical transparency) we would appreciate it if the respective regulary bodies tried to help a little more as we try to help them achieve their own targets.
10 – We’ve been criticised for not being a charity and for being unwilling to fund things for which we are not responsible or that will not provide an impactful outcome.
Positive Impact – We were founded with the mission to deliver positive environment and social impact delivering a profit as a result of what we do not the purpose. We are incredibly fortunate that our investors have committed significant capital at their risk to help us to achieve this goal. It is only by demonstrating that conservation activities can generate a positive financial return that we can encourage others to mobilise the investment we need to protect and improve at least a little of the natural world. Charity has done so much and in many ways we’re standing on the shoulders of giants, but now we need business to do more!
If you’re out there trying to do what you can for people and the environment, if that pressure is weighing heavy, please try and remember that you don’t have to hear that criticism you get to hear it. You get to hear it because you’re changing things, because you’re challenging the status quo and you’re trying to be part of the solution…
If you can meet the criticism with kindness, compassion, and understanding there is often the potential to learn from those with a different set of lived and learnt experiences, as well as the chance to find new and interesting ways of engaging with the very people we need to influence the most.
And if it all weighs a little too heavy, remember you are part of a wonderful, growing community of environmentalists ready to take a call, reply to an email, or meet for a coffee.
Thank you, criticism, it’s a privilege to receive you!