Valuing People & Nature

Kate Hiseman is the founder and CEO of the Sustainable Land Trust, which she set up in 2013 after 25 years of teaching about sustainable land management; planning strategies for local authorities to develop it sustainably; and working in disadvantaged communities where its benefits were being used to support community development.

The Sustainable Land Trust was set up to bring people closer to their natural environment and to value the services that nature provides to support society.   Globally, and in particularly in the UK, the natural environment has declined because people, businesses and policy makers do not value or understand the critical services that the sustainable management of land and natural resources can provide to people.  Nature has not been on the balance sheet, nor has been on the list of asset or risk registers of businesses or governments.

We all know that sustainable development is about managing our planet so that future generations have the same, if not, better access to resources, amenity, and services than the current generation.  The UK Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was a pioneering study that has since been replicated around the world.  The study, and others associated with it, showed that nature should not just be conserved to protect rare species or habitats, but actually to bring nature and its bounties closer to people’s lives.  The Assessment aimed to quantify the value of habitats and ecosystems in terms of financial and social terms, but also recognised that in order to provide goods and services, natural has to be in good shape first. Most recently, the UK 25 Year Environment Plan has further developed its plans based upon the findings of the Assessment in that environmental responsibility and stewardship should go hand in hand with addressing the needs of society – in particular, in encouraging children and young adults to engage with nature in a meaningful way.

Well managed landscapes and ecosystems can provide multiple benefits for all members of society – whether direct, or indirect.  For example, the sustainable management of soils on farms provides several functions in that it prevents flood risk to neighbouring villages; improves crop yield; sequesters carbon and nitrogen and supports a wide variety of micro-organisms that constantly recycle wastes.  All of these things have a value to society.  Similarly, the sustainable management of landscapes has a plethora of cultural values to society, from improvements in health and well-being to increases in cognitive development, creativity,and opportunities for income generation.

It is with this emphasis that the Sustainable Land Trust aims to demonstrate through practical example how fully-functioning ecosystems are essential in supporting society.  At its base on the Burrough Court Estate in Leicestershire, the Trust works with the land owners, universities, and statutory agencies to develop the two arable farms to demonstrate how farmers and land owners can maximise ecosystem services for the benefit of the environment and society.  The Trust also provides outreach services, working with communities to help them manage their land whilst maximising its social and economic value.

We use our skills as experienced educators, sustainability experts, and community development professionals to identify innovative and exciting ways to get the most social and economic benefits from nature. In particular, we are passionate about getting vulnerable and disadvantaged young people and adults into nature as they often are the least connected with their environments. One main activity on the farm is in the provision of alternative education and work experience for those with social, emotional, behavioural and learning difficulties; and those in recovery or with mental health issues. The Trust has worked with 55 young people classed as NEETS (not in employment, education, or training).  Their immersion in the beautiful landscapes of the Burrough Court Estate help them to address their issues and find a calm space.  At the same time, the Trust is helping them gain accredited and DofE approved qualifications; develop practical skills that can be useful in the future; get involved in research; identify how to make products from nature; and obtain aptitudes and attitudes that will get them back into school or into work.