National Trust activity licence update

Posted by Rob Dyer on 24/04/2016
A view of Crinkle Crags and Bowfell from Langdale in the Lake District. Photo: Shutterstock / David Hughes

The National Trust recently announced the launch of a new activity licensing pilot scheme understandably led to widespread concern amongst the outdoor instructor community who use Trust land with their students. The BMC held a teleconference with the Trust to find out more about the scheme, discuss how this may negatively impact providers and present an initial case supporting free educational use of Trust land.

Background

Firstly, it’s worth giving some background information on the Trust’s motivations. The pilot scheme will be running over the next six months at 21 properties (a full list is at the bottom of this article) across England to license commercial activity on their land. The reasoning behind the Trust initiating this scheme is for them to achieve five strategic objectives:

  • Minimise damage through greater control of activities happening on Trust land;
  • Reduce conflicts between user groups;
  • Ensure provision is run at a high standard;        
  • Develop better relationships with providers and increase understanding of the Trust with their students;        
  • Income generation with money raised going directly back to repair and maintenance of land.

This pilot scheme applies to all types of commercial activity on their land – from large events such as triathlons, marathons and open water swims, though to the opposite end of the spectrum and individual freelance providers. The Trust’s current view of what constitutes ‘commercial’ is simply any activity taking place entirely or partly on their land where money changes hands. Within the climbing, walking and mountaineering sphere, this would apply to any hill or mountain leaders, mountain instructors and guides who are using National Trust land with their students and receiving payment.

The initial format for the pilot scheme is that providers will need to apply for a licence through the local Property Manager and provide details of their activities as well as demonstrating they hold appropriate insurance and qualifications. (It should be noted that in line with HSE guidance, the BMC and Mountain Training recognise that leaders can demonstrate their competence in a number of ways and so will not necessarily hold a national qualification.) The suggested fee from the Trust currently is 3% of the total charge made to students, or there is potential to give back in other ways such as volunteering on work days.

A key point to note is that this is currently a pilot scheme and the Trust was keen to stress that there is scope for it to change significantly if elements of the pilot version are found not to work. The Trust is planning regular reviews throughout the pilot and a larger review in the autumn, accumulating feedback from local providers in the 21 pilot areas as well as from partner organisations. The Trust’s aim is to use their experiences from this pilot scheme to develop a nationwide licensing system which they hope to launch in early 2017 across England and Wales. Once the nationwide scheme is in place, it will be up to local Property Managers to implement it and each property will have the option to opt out of the licensing scheme, or implement it as needed depending on their individual property needs.

Potential Problems

The BMC has already highlighted a number of potential issues with the pilot scheme to the Trust and suggested ways to improve it. Here are a few quick summaries of the general issues we have raised and our thinking behind them…

What about Rights of Way?

No one can charge for use of public rights of way – they are a legal right to pass and repass along a defined route regardless of whether the intended use is commercial or not. Were a provider to use rights of way only, there would be no requirement to apply for access through the licensing scheme.

What is ‘commercial’?

The Trust is currently considering any activity on their land where money is exchanged for a service to be commercial. The activities happening on Trust land that the BMC and its members are concerned with will frequently be within Open Access land boundaries where there is a legal right of access on foot for recreational users. Commercial users – anyone who “engages in any activity which is organised or undertaken (whether by him or another) for any commercial purpose” do not have a right of access to Open Access land.   

However, DEFRA has provided additional guidance on the meaning of ‘commercial’ on access land and state in an information note on general restrictions that: “Activities organised for promoting or teaching an adventurous outdoor activity are also unlikely to be undertaken or organised for a commercial purpose.”

The BMC strongly supports a view that the vast majority of provider work falls within this definition with a primary purpose of educating students, building skills to encourage further participation in outdoor activities and teaching an appreciation of the landscape and environment. Based on this interpretation of the law, providers using access land owned by the National Trust for the primary purpose of educating students should have a free right of access.

Displacement into other areas

The objective of reducing conflict between groups may be required at a very small number of honeypot sites which see heavy use by multiple groups, but in general doesn’t apply to climbing and walking groups under instruction. The qualification routes within Mountain Training value etiquette and responsible behaviour highly and in the vast majority of areas this is not a problem with groups working around each other or changing venue as required.

What is more likely is that a licensing scheme that is an administrative and financial burden to providers will lead to displacement of groups elsewhere into potentially less suitable locations where there is no licensing scheme. This could have unwanted repercussions such as these areas being more ecologically sensitive with the potential for damage by increased use.

Setting a precedent?

There is a risk that large national landowning body such as the National Trust introducing a licensing system may trickle down to other landowners. This could lead to a situation which is difficult to manage for providers, especially on days where routes may cross land owned by multiple landowners. Not only would the administration be difficult, but significant proportions of a provider’s income could be required in payment – all this from often small businesses or LEA Outdoor Centres who are already struggling to balance the books.

Flexibility issues

A key requirement for outdoor providers is to remain able to react to unexpected changes to weather and conditions and change venue at the last minute if necessary. This is an integral part of the activities climbers and walkers participate in and making last minute changes more difficult will only result in a reduction in safety for providers and students.

Positive opportunities

There are certainly elements of the scheme that are concerning, but it is important to remember that this is only a pilot scheme at this stage and there is plenty of opportunity to influence the final version in a positive way.

The Trust undoubtedly has some important issues which need addressing, not least of which is controlling damage and in particular the maintenance of upland footpaths on their land – important work which is expensive and time consuming. Income generation to fund this work is necessary but we at the BMC think there are better ways to achieve this than a licensing scheme which will be difficult for both the Trust and providers to administrate and could provide barriers to participation in the outdoors.

One initial suggestion the BMC has made to the Trust, is that a badge scheme could be a much better way to achieve their objectives instead of formal licensing. A well run badge scheme could achieve those aims, for example by requiring holders to:

  • Educate students about the value of the environment and landscape;
  • Promote key messages about the National Trust;
  • Retaining the flexibility required for providers to work safely and effectively;
  • Give something back to the landscape they use, be that via a small percentage of earnings / time / another locally appropriate means.

Once established, this could give providers a useful way of demonstrating to their clients that they are responsible operators and importantly it would be optional and free of the negative connotations of paying for access, whilst still achieving the objectives set out by the Trust. This is only one idea but the initial response from the Trust was one of interest.

How can you get involved?

If you are a provider who uses one of the 21 properties included within the pilot scheme, it is important that you feed back about your experiences of the scheme. You can do this locally by contacting the Trust team at the property involved.  This feedback will be most useful and have a bigger impact if you can give clear examples of how the scheme has impacted you, whether that is positively or negatively.

If you are a provider who uses Trust properties, but outside of the 21 pilot areas the licensing scheme doesn’t apply to you at this stage, but we encourage you to provide feedback to the Trust. The BMC will be regularly providing feedback into the pilot scheme and how it can be improved, hopefully with plenty of real world examples from providers in the pilot areas.

The Trust certainly seems to be open to suggestions at this stage and it is important that we don’t miss the opportunity to feedback on the pilot scheme and positively influence the final version. It can’t be stressed enough how important it will be to have solid case studies to back up the suggestions we make in our feedback, so if you are a climbing or walking provider in one of the 21 areas, in addition to feeding back to the local property team, please let the BMC know any feedback you may have on the pilot scheme by emailing: ntlicensing@thebmc.co.uk.

The 21 Pilot Properties are:

  1. Carding Mill Valley
  2. Ashridge
  3. Alderley Edge portfolio
  4. Wimpole
  5. Killerton
  6. New Forest
  7. Clumber Park
  8. Buckland Abbey
  9. Lake District
  10. Gloucestershire portfolio
  11. Purbeck
  12. Arlington
  13. Osterley
  14. Longshaw
  15. Gibside
  16. Speke
  17. Penrose
  18. Attingham
  19. Birling Gap and Slindon
  20. Formby
  21. Tyntesfield/Leigh Woods

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1) Anonymous User
05/04/2016
I was under the impression that the NT had already confirmed that certain education activities would not be included.

"The NT confirmed that there are exclusions from the Outdoor Activity Licence for Scout and Guide Groups, Duke of Edinburgh events and School/ Education Groups with Education Group Membership"

2) Anonymous User
06/04/2016
I cant say I like the idea of the badge scheme the BMC seems to be supporting- why should we be obliged to sing the NT's praises? It is surely a matter of personal views, and in light of the NT's proposals I feel much less inclined to be deferential towards the organisation.
3) Anonymous User
06/04/2016
My instant reaction was 'the robbing b*******s' but then I thought a bit harder. I can see it is unwelcome to the outdoor instructors who will have to pay and to the students to whom the cost will presumably be passed on but if a company is using someone else's land to make money is it unreasonable for the landowner to want a cut? If instructors have to go indoors in bad weather to teach they presumably expect to pay the wall owner for the use of the facilities. Is a private outdoor area any different?
4) Anonymous User
06/04/2016
It is totally different from an instructor having to go indoors and paying for that. This is a natural environment, and one which had been given to the Trust to look after on behalf of the nation. They've not had to build the hills, rivets or crags. I feel it's a cynical attempt at income generation, disguised as something more positive. It's yet another example of "a Trust betrayed" by this organisation.
5) Anonymous User
07/04/2016
The point of the National Trust is to hold property in trust for the nation. It would appear now that is no longer the case.

If I am Involved with a DoE assessment in the New Forest or Slindon I am going to face a fee. Both land within National Parks.

The NT has lost a member and a supporter.
6) Anonymous User
08/04/2016
We have been informed by NT Lake District that they will NOT be licensing outdoor activity providers who use NT properties unless they are providing activities on behalf of the NT.

So I am now a little confused as this article conflicts with our local information with the NT?
7) Rob Dyer(author comment)
08/04/2016
As mentioned in the article - it will be up to individual Property Managers to decide whether to implement the scheme or not on their properties.
8) Anonymous
13/04/2016
This comment broke the house rules and has been removed
9) Anonymous User
13/04/2016
All this because successive governments have allowed banks to push us into unpayable debt.
10) Anonymous User
13/04/2016

How the poor were airbrushed from history

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 24th February 2009

Is there any other democracy so adept at editing its history? Even Spain, for years notoriously reluctant to get to grips with the legacy of Franco, has begun to acknowledge the past, as the success of Guillermo del Torro’s masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth shows. The French are aware of every sordid detail of the excesses of both monarchs and revolutionaries. The Germans are pricked by their past every day. In the United States everyone knows about slavery, the civil war and segregation. But in Britain our collective memory has been wiped clean.

Despite the efforts of authors such as Mike Davis, John Newsinger, Mark Curtis, Caroline Elkins and David Anderson(1,2,3,4,5,6), our colonial atrocities still leave the national conscience untroubled. We appear to be even less aware of what happened at home.

Last week the National Trust, which is Britain’s biggest private landowner and biggest NGO, announced that it is creating 1000 allotments – small patches which local people can rent for growing vegetables – on its properties, among them some of its grandest parks and estates(7). This was universally, and rightly, hailed as a good thing. But no one stopped, as no one ever does, to ask where this land came from.

The National Trust has done more than any other body to open up the countryside to the British people, and more than any other body to close down our minds. It bears more responsibility than any other body for the sanitised, tea-towel history which dominates the national consciousness. Last year over 100 million visitors explored its properties(8). They were exposed to a partial and selective view of Britain’s past.

Take one of its finest and most famous holdings: Stowe Landscape Gardens. I know them well, for I enjoyed the astonishing unearned privilege of attending the school that’s housed there. The gardens (really a landscaped deerpark) were a vast playground of crumbling follies and overgrown lakes, of coverts and laurel brakes in which ruined monuments could, like Mayan temples, be discovered by adventurous boys. Licensed by tolerant teachers, I played swallows and amazons here for five years.

Now the gardens have been beautifully, if starkly, restored by the National Trust. The temples have been cleaned and mended, the thickets cleared, the volunteer woodland felled. They have been returned to the state intended by their authors: the first Viscount Cobham (1675-1749) and his descendants.

When you visit the gardens today, or read about them on the Trust’s website, you will learn about the thirteen phases of the development of the gardens, the creation of the avenues, monuments and temples, the commissions executed by the famous architects and designers who worked here(9,10). But nowhere, as far as I can discover, will you find a word about who lived here before the estate was consolidated in the late 16th Century, or how local peop
11) Anonymous User
14/04/2016
I have an NT membership which I took out because I was led to believe that my fee helps with the upkeep of the land, I don't actually often visit their houses. Would I potentially have to end up paying them twice or would my membership cover it?
12) Anonymous User
14/04/2016
I thought NT land was held in trust for the benefit of everyone.
So a 'commercial' walk leader plans a route that passess over one of these areas, and has to cough up?
NT permits hunting with dogs on some of these areas, are they going to cough up?
I regret to say that a once noble organisation sinks even lower in my opinion.
Sad to say that I reluctantly pay a membership fee these days, but no longer support any appeals. NT have lost their way.
13) Anonymous User
15/04/2016
How do the NT intend to police this policy?
14) Andy Say
15/04/2016
A couple of points:
1. 'Commercial users – anyone who “engages in any activity which is organised or undertaken (whether by him or another) for any commercial purpose” do not have a right of access to Open Access land.' We really do have to be careful how we interpret CRoW. On the face of it this statement is wrong. You can certainly cross Open Access land on rights of way. The important thing to bear in mind is that it only means that you can't use CRoW to justify being there (an 'excepted' activity - like swimming!); it doesn't mean you can't go there. This is where we get the rubbish about wild camping being 'illegal'.
2. Whilst I can see Clumber Park and Buckland Abbey possibly needing some controls I boggle at number 9 in your list. 'The Lake District'! That is just not going to happen. And of course the Longshaw estate covers quite a few crags that we are all interested in.
3. It looks like someone at the NT got hold of the United Utilities proposal from 10 years ago and copied it. That got shot out of the water as well with pressure from BMC.
4. Anyone got a copy of Michael Meacher's letter that assured everyone at the time that CRoW would not be used to restrict existing access and would not apply to 'education'?
5. And on a broader basis: club meet, uni freshers meet, navigation course, school party, gang of mates. Do any of them really need to be singled out for special control?
15) Anonymous User
15/04/2016
Hahaha, wait a minute, its not April 1st...... this has to be a joke, right? If this is true the BMC reputation will be rubbished to that of just another money grabbing buisness! Just another way making the ones who are honest enough to pay this tax also pay for everyone elses damage, litter etc... not a good day for the BMC...
16) Anonymous User
15/04/2016
Continue from post 10:

......or how local people were treated after the gardens were established 150 years later. The Trust, in other words, says nothing about the village cleared to create the deer-park, or the eviction, imprisonment, transportation or execution of those who lived there(11).

In his book Whigs and Hunters, EP Thomson gives us a vignette of what happened here. As constable of Windsor Castle, the first Viscount Cobham had been responsible for enforcing the Black Acts, which created some 50 new capital offences for poaching and resisting the encroachments and enclosures carried out by the ruling class. He imported this management ethic into his estate at Stowe. “In 1748 two young men … were caught while raiding his deer-park. According to a firm local tradition, the wives of the men sought an interview at Stowe and begged for their husbands’ lives. It seemed that old Cobham, now in his eightieth year, was moved by their tears. He promised that their husbands would be returned to them by a certain day – and so they were, for on that day their corpses were brought to the cottage doors on a cart. Cobham celebrated the occasion by striking statues of the dead men in his park, a deer across their shoulders.”(12)

In Liberty Against the Law, Christopher Hill tells the story of the redistribution of land and wealth from rural labourers to the landed classes between the 16th and 18th centuries and the rack-renting, eviction and persecution of the poor. For landless labourers, he says, the termination of rights to common land “meant the difference between a viable life and starvation”(13). Many died in the famines of the 1590s, 1620s and 1640s(14). Many more – 80,000 in the early 17th Century according to the historian Peter Clark(15) – became vagabonds whose wandering put them on the wrong side of the law. They were branded, flogged back to their parishes, press-ganged by the navy and the merchant marine or forced into industries whose conditions and wage rates were “little better than slavery”(16). The children of vagabonds and paupers were transported to Virginia, effectively as slaves(17). Many of them died in transit. There were enclosure riots (attempts to resist the landlords’ seizure of the commons) all over the country(18). Almost all of them failed, and many of the rioters were transported or executed. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, Marion Shoard records in her book This Land is Our Land, a further 7 million acres of England – 20% of the total land area – were enclosed by landowners(19).

Of course there is no single history of the countryside and no single means of interpreting it. Sir Tony Wrigley, for example, emphasises instead the constraints of a local agrarian economy, and sees population growth as the main driver of migration(20,21). But neither version of the lives of the other 99% is given by the National Trust when you visit its stately homes and grand estates. The story is told solely from the point of view of the landowner. History, to the Trust, is the propaganda of the victor.

In its document History and Place, the National Trust maintains that “we can never hope fully to understand the past, but we can at least recognise that history is open to widely different interpretations … The Trust is ready to explore unfamiliar or uncomfortable history in new ways.”(22) And it is true that if you visit one of the workhouses it has lovingly restored, you can relive “the harshness of the nineteenth-century Poor Laws.”(23) But when you read what it says about its great estates, you will find no clues as to how those workhouses were populated. Perhaps because it doesn’t want to scare its visitors away, perhaps because it has absorbed the views of previous landowners, it has airbrushed the poor from history.

Allotments have been used as a sop to the dispossessed for at least four centuries. The General Enclosure Act of 1845 took 615,000 acres from the poor and gave them 2,200 acres of allotments in return(24). Just because we love and value allotments should not stop us from seeing that they also represent paternalistic tokenism. But I’m not asking the Trust to divide up all its lands and give them back to the people: its management of property on our behalf is liberal and benign. I am asking it to give us back our history.
17) Anonymous User
16/04/2016
As a member of the NT, the BMC and a national mountaineering club I find it difficult to argue against those making profit out of the use of land not making a contribution for its upkeep whoever it belongs to. If we are talking about freedom to roam (and climb) then I consider my freedom is greatly impinged by those large scale events where the mass of competitors involved creates a wholly different environment to that which walkers and climbers normally enjoy in the hills. I am not suggesting that such activities are stopped but that if they are using land normally accessed by the general public then they should be paying for the privilege to do so.
With regard to climbing I have this week seen an advertisement for taking children for a half day climbing experience for £25 each and the advert shows a picture of Windgather Rocks in the Peak District. So someone is making money out of such activities without any compensation to the landowner. Even popular climbing areas such as Stanage Edge are now being subjected to use by commercial organisations who do not always heed the BMC good practice guidance of not "hogging" routes by leaving top ropes up for the use of their clients.
Let's not be too critical of the NT as the work they have done through member and public subscription has in the main been excellent toward improving access facilities but this does come at a cost that should be reasonably subscribed to by those making monetary profit from it and if that means higher cost for their clients then that is the right price to pay.
18) Anonymous User
16/04/2016
As a member of the NT, the BMC and a national mountaineering club I find it difficult to argue against those making profit out of the use of land not making a contribution for its upkeep whoever it belongs to. If we are talking about freedom to roam (and climb) then I consider my freedom is greatly impinged by those large scale events where the mass of competitors involved creates a wholly different environment to that which walkers and climbers normally enjoy in the hills. I am not suggesting that such activities are stopped but that if they are using land normally accessed by the general public then they should be paying for the privilege to do so.
With regard to climbing I have this week seen an advertisement for taking children for a half day climbing experience for £25 each and the advert shows a picture of Windgather Rocks in the Peak District. So someone is making money out of such activities without any compensation to the landowner. Even popular climbing areas such as Stanage Edge are now being subjected to use by commercial organisations who do not always heed the BMC good practice guidance of not "hogging" routes by leaving top ropes up for the use of their clients.
Let's not be too critical of the NT as the work they have done through member and public subscription has in the main been excellent toward improving access facilities but this does come at a cost that should be reasonably subscribed to by those making monetary profit from it and if that means higher cost for their clients then that is the right price to pay.
19) Anonymous User
16/04/2016
We are a small club that organises mountain bike orienteering events in the southwest, and we have been paying this 3% (plus £50 administration fee) for a licence to use NT land for years now. As long as the money is being pumped back into the estate I don't feel it is such a bad thing. It works out similar to the fees FC charge to use their lands.
20) Anonymous User
03/05/2016
What would the insurance costs be and what would the insurance cover? I see this as the thin end of a very thick wedge. How long before anyone going onto NT land will be forced to take out insurance?
21) Anonymous User
04/05/2016
What an appalling idea! This is fuelled by greed and overstatement. The NT already charge £7 or more for a days parking in the Lake District. Now the greedy b***s want even more.
Activity providers allow those who are too inexperienced (children, families, novices) to experience and learn to appreciate the outdoor environment. They should be applauded and encouraged, not hassled and ripped off.
This scheme is something that no genuine mountaineer or outdoor-lover (or their representative body!) should support or endorse in any way. Oppose it utterly.
Neil Collier.
22) Anonymous User
10/05/2016
As far as the LAKE DISTRICT is concerned once contact is established with the local rep he has now informed me that they will not be persuing this licence with respect to individual, guides, instructors and activity providers.
That is a reflief. His words in an email to me are
"Local picture
In the Lake District we have been running a licensing scheme for a number of years. We have licenses in place with event organisers and local activity providers across the Lake District.
We license providers when;
a) The customer sees a direct link between an activity and the National Trust. Examples of this include; Ghyll Scrambling which is booked through our campsites, or archery sessions that we promote at Wray Castle.
b) A provider wants to create a base on National Trust land. Examples of this include; storing a canoe trailer in the field at Fell Foot, or using part of a tenants’ field for a marshal point as part of an event.
c) They are running a large mass participation event that could have a big impact upon the landscape. Here we want to make sure that what providers are doing is reasonable in protecting the landscape, the local community and that our responsibilities relating to protected land are covered. Examples of this are Keswick Mountain Festival and trail running events.

Don'y know why they are so slow to issue an official statement on this yet.
23) Anonymous User
11/06/2016
Another example of a recently emerged penny-pinching attitude by the NT. As a travel writer, I have featured very many NT properties in books and magazines over the years, thereby giving them free publicity which, if they were to pay for this themselves, would cost hundreds, perhaps thousands of pounds each time. In return for this, I have normally been granted free access to the property I was writing about. No longer. From the beginning of this year, I have been expected to pay for the privilege of giving them this free publicity.

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