The Wildlife Trusts: Questions & Answers

About Us

Questions and Answers

©Paul Lane

Who are The Wildlife Trusts?

The Wildlife Trusts are a movement of more than 800,000 members and 40,000 volunteers from a wide range of backgrounds and all walks of life. We are united in our belief that a healthy, wildlife-rich natural world is valuable in its own right and is also the foundation of our health, wellbeing and prosperity. People are part of nature; everything we value comes from it and everything we do has an impact on it.

There are 37 individual Wildlife Trusts covering England, six in Wales and single Trusts covering each of Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and Alderney. Wherever we work, we are accountable to people who live in the area.

What is your charitable purpose?

Each Wildlife Trust has charitable objects that set out its purpose. The Charity Commission holds it to account so there is no deviation from these. Although each Trust is independent, the movement grew up together and every Trust has two main aims:

• Conserving the natural environment and
• Helping people to experience, understand and value the natural world.

Many organisations have animal welfare as a primary charitable purpose, and undertake work campaigning for improved treatment of animals, whether domestic or wild. This is important work that is different to our own charitable objects.

What difference are you making?

The Wildlife Trusts directly look after more than 2,300 wild places – woods, meadows, lakes, moorland - with a total area of about 100,000 hectares. We stand up for the natural world in towns and countryside, at sea and in our rivers. Individual Wildlife Trusts are often one of the last lines of defence against planning decisions that threaten the natural environment; each year we respond to about 7,500 applications, and nearly 3,000 of these are refused or improved as a result.

We run more than 100 visitor and education centres and help thousands of children to learn outdoors through forest schools or in their own school grounds. We give advice on wildlife habitats to thousands of farmers, businesses and other people who own and manage land covering another 200,000 hectares beyond our own land. We have been at the forefront of efforts to secure protected areas in the seas around the UK and to secure sustainable fisheries.

Together, we are working hard to ensure that our wildlife legislation isn't weakened when the UK leaves the European Union (where eighty percent of our environmental legislation comes from). The Wildlife Trusts are campaigning to ensure that all the existing EU laws that protect our environment are transferred into UK law, that they are not eroded afterwards and that they are enforced. We are also championing the need for more ambitious laws.

How are the individual Wildlife Trusts governed?

Every Wildlife Trust has a board of trustees responsible for governance of the Trust, elected by its members. They include people from a wide range of backgrounds: scientists, teachers, business people, conservationists, GPs, shopkeepers, nurses, farmers - people from across the political spectrum. Having a range of perspectives amongst trustees is vital for effective decision-making. Most Trusts have about 12-15 trustees, making over 600 altogether. All our trustees are volunteers.

Trustees are required by charity law to focus on the objects of the charity when making decisions, which are taken by the trustees as a group. Trustees look for solutions and base their decisions on evidence and pragmatism.

Who do you work with?

We work with a wide range of people and partners including schools, community groups, local authorities, businesses, universities, lotteries, charitable trusts, fishermen, divers and farmers amongst others. All of our partnerships are built on mutual trust and shared responsibility.

Not everyone we work with will agree with us on everything, but everyone we work with is contributing to our charitable aims. We bring people together behind a shared endeavour for our natural world.

Where can I find a copy of your Annual Report?

Every year, each Wildlife Trust publishes an Annual Report and Accounts summarising key financial information about its work. These are usually available on each Trust’s website, but you can also email them for a copy or read them on the Charity Commission website. We also publish a UK-wide Annual Review which summarises our collective impact and key achievements each year. Click here to read our latest Annual Review.

Do you allow hunting or field sports on your land?

We do not allow field sports on our nature reserves except in rare instances where other people control the shooting rights. Neither do we allow hunting with dogs on our nature reserves. 

Campaigning against field sports on animal welfare grounds would not be within our charitable remit. We do, however, raise concerns and sometimes oppose aspects of field sports in the wider countryside where they have a damaging impact on the conservation of populations of wild plants or animals, or fragile habitats. For example, recently we have supported proposals to phase out the use of lead ammunition in shooting and we have raised concerns about the impact of moorland management (for grouse shooting) in the uplands.

Whilst we recognise that, in some places, scarce or threatened wildlife habitats (such as rural lowland woods) may possibly disappear altogether if they are not used for field sports, we don’t actively promote field sports. As a conservation charity our ideal is for such habitats not just to be preserved but to be managed expressly for wildlife. We work pragmatically to achieve as much wildlife conservation benefit as we can in each different situation. 

Are your nature reserves free to visit?

Nearly all of The Wildlife Trusts’ nature reserves are free to visit and explore. They vary from tiny copses and meadows near the centre of major cities, to vast wetlands, heathlands and moorlands (and even a mountain!). There are over 2,300 all around the country, and most people live within a few miles of one of these special places. We also run over 100 visitor and education centres. 

Some Wildlife Trusts do ask for a small charge at a few sites – often for carparking - to help cover the costs of running these facilities, so that they can provide the best possible visitor experience and help nature to thrive in these areas.

This income goes back into supporting wildlife in the direct area, so you can be sure that your entry fee is being spent on helping and supporting wildlife. As independent charities, Wildlife Trusts face very different challenges in their local areas, so all operate on their own business models, depending on what works best to allow to them to carry out effective nature conservation. To find out about your nearest nature reserves, how to access them, what facilities are nearby and if there are any charges, please see here.  

The Wildlife Trusts have a ‘federal’ structure – what does this mean in practice?

There are 37 individual Wildlife Trusts covering England, six in Wales and single Trusts covering Scotland, Northern Ireland and two Crown Dependencies – Alderney and the Isle of Man. Wherever we work, we are accountable to people of that place. Each Wildlife Trust is an independent charity, with independent finances, governance and structure.

Each Wildlife Trust is also a corporate member of the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts (RSWT, registered charity number 207238), a charity founded in 1912 by banker and philanthropist Charles Rothschild. This central charity supports and leads the movement’s development and represents all The Wildlife Trusts whenever a strong united voice is required. This particularly includes work to influence public policy affecting the whole of England or the whole of the UK. As well as influencing decisions for the natural environment in Westminster and Whitehall, and managing relations with UK or English organisations, the central charity helps to ensure the movement is as effective and efficient as possible, sharing resources, skills and knowledge, and supporting fundraising and mass communications. The work of this central charity is reported on annually.