Legacy of a Lifetime

Senior Conservation Officer Neil Pilcher describes the impact that philanthropy has had in saving nature in Leicestershire and Rutland.

Sometimes it takes an act of extreme generosity, selflessness and charity to save a special wild place. Luckily for nature, both locally and beyond, we have been powered by those individuals who have gone the extra mile to save wildlife. From Charles Rothschild who founded The Wildlife Trusts movement, to people like Anders Holch Povlsen who has bought vast tracts (over 220,000 acres!) of land in Scotland for rewilding, individuals can make all the difference.

Of all philanthropic spending in Britain, just three per cent goes towards the environment. Despite this, since 1956, LRWT has been grateful to receive a significant number of gifts and bequests, including 11 gifts of land. These range from 192 hectares at Charnwood Lodge
to 0.7 hectares at Miles Piece, totalling nearly 300 hectares - roughly a quarter of the Trust’s landholding. Most of these gifts came from individuals who want to ensure that their land will be managed for wildlife forever.

Charnwood Lodge

Charnwood Lodge was gifted by Miss Clarke, passing to our care in 1973 following her death. She wanted to honour her family’s passion for wildlife and preserve it for the future. She declared Charnwood Lodge a nature reserve in 1961 in memory of her brother, Shirley William
Clarke. This was a remarkable gift, including High Tor Farm, several cottages, Charnwood Lodge House and multiple outbuildings, as well as nearly 500 acres of land, now worth around £4 million. She asked that the estate was preserved for the study of natural history. It was her greatest fear that the estate would ‘become another Bradgate Park’, so restrictions on public access were key to her bequest.

Cloud Wood

Cloud Wood was left to the Trust in 1993 by the outgoing Director of Ennstone Breedon plc, Mr Shields. He is said to have had stone tracks laid within the woodland so that he could drive his Rolls Royce through it whilst birdwatching! Mr Shields was impressed by the way in which LRWT had worked within Miss Clarke’s wishes for Charnwood Lodge, and subsequently Cloud Wood was gifted to us. He too included a restriction on public access.

What makes a good gift of land?

Large areas are usually best for wildlife as they are more robust, whilst small sites tend to be more vulnerable and take disproportionally more resources to manage. However, some small sites are wildlife havens and can link up to form ‘corridors’ for wildlife. Any land has potential to be good for wildlife, so don’t be put off if your land isn’t currently biodiverse. Inspired by the Knepp Estate, LRWT has a vision of creating a vast tract of rewilded land and all we need is the blank canvas; a large area of low-grade agricultural land could be ideal!

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When Miss Clarke was thinking about the future of Charnwood Lodge, she took steps to ensure the reserve would be preserved after her death. Her gift was written into her Will for over 10 years before she died. Other benefactors have also given land to the Trust before their death. This removes the burden of management and ensures that land is preserved. Landowners have also offered their land for sale to us before advertising on the open market, below market price. This is an excellent solution where a landowner cannot afford to make a complete gift. Increasingly, the Trust has found it difficult to compete for land, so these gifts are invaluable.

As the manager of Charnwood Lodge, I often feel I have the ghost of Miss Clarke looking over my shoulder checking that I am keeping to her wishes. I hope that she remains satisfied with what she sees!

Providing the conditions are reasonable and legal, LRWT is happy to accommodate a benefactor’s wishes. However, we would recommend the careful consideration of conditions as it might make the management of the land difficult. We are happy to offer advice in all cases and work with you to ensure that your land is managed for wildlife.

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The Trust would like to thank Miss Clarke, Mr Shields, Pleasance Burroughes, Mrs I Cheales (nee Miles), Charles Cliffe Jones, Leicestershire County Council, Severn Trent Water, Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group and Leicestershire Barn Owl Group for their gifts of land.