HL Deb 28 February 1962 vol 237 cc976-1025

3.58 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, we now return to the conservation of nature and I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for introducing this Motion on nature conservancy. I myself speak with considerable difficulty because I am a member of the Scottish Committee of the Nature Conservancy, so it is not for me to pass judgment on the work of the Nature Conservancy; that is something I will have to leave for other noble Lords who follow. Nor am I going to get involved with the work of the Red Deer Commission, because I still remember far too vividly the 72 Amendments put down by your Lordships on the Bill. I just wish to made one point, which has already been touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, which concerns the Nature Conservancy's relations with the public. I believe that if the Nature Conservancy is to criticise itself it would be over keeping the public fully aware of the Nature Conservancy's rôle under the Charter, and, secondly, of how it is discharging its duties in that rôle.

My Lords, there can be no doubt that if the Nature Conservancy can obtain the co-operation of the public its task will be very greatly simplified, because conservation is not just the work of botanists, zoologists, scientists and others, but is something that requires the co-operation of the public. To-day probably very few understand the work of aeronauts and astronauts, and it is probably quite true to say that a good many do not understand the work of the Nature Conservancy. I believe some people regard the Nature Conservancy as a lot of people who go about armed with powerful binoculars, crawling on their stomachs or permanently bent double examining plants through powerful magnifying glasses. The Nature Conservancy tries to live down this reputation—or perhaps one should say, this misconception. The Nature Conservancy thinks that the best way of educating the public and getting their co-operation is for its staff to go to give talks at educational establishments, schools, universities and societies who are interested in nature. This policy will doubtless reap rewards in future years, but to-day we want cooperation also from the older people who have not so recently been to educational establishments.

There is, I think, still considerable misunderstanding concerning the duties of the Nature Conservancy. The Charter lays down first that the Nature Conservancy shall provide scientific advice on conservation and control of natural flora and fauna; secondly, establish and maintain nature reserves; and, thirdly, carry out research in connection with the conservation of natural flora and fauna. There are some people who think the Nature Conservancy wants to take under its wing every area abounding with birds, animals and flowers so that nothing will be left to the collectors. That is not the case. The nature reserves have been set up by the Nature Conservancy to preserve or carry out research on certain flora and fauna. The total acreage of nature reserves does not amount to more than a fraction of the land surface of these islands.

Of course there are one or two exceptional cases, such as where the Nature Conservancy has reserved the only area where a certain species can be found. This is only because of the rarity of that species and the very necessity to preserve it for the future. The problem confronting the Nature Conservancy is how to reconcile the use of part of our national heritage by the present generation with the need to safeguard its irreplaceable features for future generations. Here I should like to say that where the Nature Conservancy has entered into agreements with land owners it very soon gets full co-operation from those land owners.

There is another misconception which arises from time to time. Some people think that the Nature Conservancy should preserve scenic amenity and provide recreational facilities for the public. This is something that does not come under the Nature Conservancy's Charter. However, it is something that the Nature Conservancy keeps very much in mind, and at present in Scotland the Nature Conservancy is planning a roadside reception area for caravanners and campers at Beinn Eighe in Wester Ross, and in doing this the Nature Conservancy is going to employ a landscape architect. When the project is finished it is hoped that the whole project will be an example to other authorities. The Nature Conservancy, as I see it, have to get across to the public, first of all, the need for conservation and, secondly, how the Nature Conservancy proposes to discharge its responsibilities.

I think the story of one Jim Watt, who was an employee of the Hudson's Bay Company in the 'thirties, illustrates what nature conservancy means and the importance of the co-operation of the public. In the 'thirties the beaver around James Bay and Hudson's Bay were becoming practically extinct and this employee of the Hudson's Bay Company, Jim Watt, managed to persuade the Indians that if they were going to survive they must conserve the beaver; he explained to them that beaver breed rapidly and if they would kill only a very small percentage of those beaver for two years then they might have beaver in abundance. He got the co-operation of the Indians and in two years' time there was no fear of there being no more beaver pelts for the Indians to trade or no more flesh for the Indians to eat.

The Nature Conservancy faces a gigantic task of passing on to the public the idea of conservation of flora and fauna because it is something that is relatively new to this country. One might think that the problem will increase as the nation becomes more urbanised. On the other hand, there are some, like myself, who believe that once the interest of the townspeople has been aroused those townspeople often become as enthusiastic about nature as the countrymen themselves. Finally, just let me say this. By conserving nature we are preserving in balance something given to us as part of our heritage, something which once lost cannot be retrieved. Surely this is a worth while job that merits the sympathetic co-operation of everyone in this country.

4.6 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say just one or two words about this most interesting Report, upon which I am sure we should all wish to congratulate those responsible. It contains a wealth of information and many signals of hope and cheerfulness in a subject which at one time gave rise to great despair. I would suggest one small improvement in form, and that is the addition of a general index which would enable this book to be taken down from one's shelves and referred to very quickly when required, which is pretty often if one gets interested in this fascinating subject.

I was particularly interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, refer to the proposed camping site. This seems to me a splendid innovation, not only because of its value as a camping site and, perhaps, the prevention of still further ruin of parts of our native country, but also because, as he rightly says, it will be a good influence in directing the attention and interest of town-dwellers to the part they can play in the preservation of one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Many people, it seems to me, do not spend enough time thinking about the rich nature of our heritage in this island. I remember Sir Winston Churchill saying once, in the gloomy days in 1940, when talking of France, that for its size it was the fairest tract of the earth's surface. I believe that that is true of Britain, too; and anything we can do to preserve the wild life and the natural beauty of Great Britain we must not neglect to do. I think it is very sad that at this time, when this work is so important and the recognition of it is getting wider, the Government have found it necessary to cut the grant. I would urge most strongly that the cut be restored and that the grant be increased, because there is an enormous amount of work to be done which the Conservancy has shown itself well able to do; and the limiting factor, of course, is lack of funds and of staff.

I should like to refer to one matter that was raised in the debate in this House, I think it was in April last year, on the question of the effects of toxic manures and seed dressings and weed-killers, upon which the Nature Conservancy has done some valuable work and stimulated much inquiry. I still think that there is a great deal more to he done. The secondary, tertiary and continuing chain of effects from the introduction of poisons on the land, either for killing weeds or as alleged fertilisers, can be continued far into the future. We have yet to discover the full facts about the effects of cattle feeding-stuffs raised on soils dressed with chemically dressed seeds and on soils dressed with chemical fertilisers. I have friends who believe, from their own experiences, that the effect on the milk of cows fed upon cake and other feeding-stuffs raised on soils which are, in their view, contaminated by the use of chemical seed dressings and fertilisers is most alarming. They believe that the effect on the soil continues for a long time, that it continues through the life of the beasts which eat the fodder, and that it passes into the milk and is passed on in this way to human agencies. This may be a matter more concerning other people—


My Lords, I think I can say straight away that I know of no responsible scientist who would agree that the use of fertilisers was deleterious to the composition of milk.


My Lords, the noble Viscount knows so much more about this matter than I do that I certainly should not contradict him. But the word "responsible", when applied to scientists, varies from time to time in its application; quite irresponsible people become responsible as the years go by. My friends are not scientists, they are agricultural people. I have no view except to say that that is what they believe.

There are people who take the view that chemical fertilisers play a part in soil erosion, and so on. Whether they are right or not I do not know, but I believe that there is a good deal more research to be done on the effect of the use of toxic substances in various agricultural methods. I hope that this work will go on, and I should make it clear that I am not pre-judging this matter in any sense. There is also referred to in this Report the practice of spraying roadside verges with toxic substances. I suppose as weed-killers. I believe that this practice is having most disastrous effect upon the natural flora and fauna, and I hope that investigation into it will continue.

Finally, I do not think there is in the Report—perhaps I have missed it—any reference to the possible effects of effluent from the atomic power stations. We are constructing a number of coastal atomic power stations. The effect of their effluent into the sea may be good or bad—I do not know. But that it will make a difference I think there is little doubt. I hope that the Conservancy and the Government will continue studies on this matter. I am told that in some cases the water has been warmed, that fish have been encouraged and that fishing is expected to improve. That may he so. As to the quality of the fish, I do not know. However, this Report displays the value of this work, which needs our encouragement and will do nothing but good, and I believe that future generations will have cause to thank us.

4.16 p.m.


My Lords, I should first of all like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for putting down this Motion, and also for his extremely good speech on what I can only describe as a very good Report. I was rather surprised to hear my noble friend Lord Forbes say, as I understood him, that conservation was quite a new idea. It is quite true that the Nature Conservancy is a new organisation; but we have had conservation in the country of indigenous flora and fauna and of the landscape for a long time. The big landowners have previously been responsible for this conservation. Of course, now that a great number of estates have been broken up, the Nature Conservancy and other bodies, such as the National Trust, have to step into the breach.

As one or two speakers have mentioned, one of the most disturbing elements of our modern civilisation is that we are getting further and further from nature. Especially is this so in the British Isles, which on the whole is an urbanised country, to say the least. The average person in this country has, I am afraid, only the vaguest notion of the various processes of nature which enable him to exist. We are all products of nature, though a great number of us appear to forget that idea. I would suggest that the first task of the Conservancy should be to try to educate people to realise that they are part of nature and that, for their own survival, they must conserve and understand the earth and life sciences with which we are surrounded.

As the Report says, without education only inadequate advances in conservation are possible. To-day, with broadcasting and television we have a great opportunity for mass education in the ways of the countryside and the flora and fauna that inhabit it. I realise that the Conservancy arranges lectures and exhibitions. It also has libraries. But these organisations reach only the small percentage of people who, on the whole, are educated and interested in the country. I have frequently had occasion to speak to hikers, campers and picnic parties, and I have been astounded by the great ignorance of the most elementary facts of the countryside that is often to he found among these people. Generally they are extremely well-meaning; occasionally, one finds vicious ones, but they are in the minority.

Only last summer I saw a large party of people spread all over a clover and ryegrass field that I was just going to have mown for hay. There was a large party of children, and I suppose about half a dozen adults. I went up to the apparent head of this party, a middle-aged lady, and said to her, "Excuse me, madam, do you mind having your party in the adjoining field, where you will do no damage?" She said to me—it is fantastic but it is true—"Young man,"—which, in the first place, was rather a misnomer—"God put this field here; I have as much right to it as you do." I said, "But, madam, if you had found this field as God put it here, to start with you probably would not have any clothes on—it would be completely thorn scrub, and in order to reach this spot you would have had your clothes torn off; and, if you could have reached this spot, you would now be extremely uncomfortable because you would be sitting on some very nasty thistles." You see, my Lords, although this good lady was perfectly well-meaning, she was just ignorant of the laws of the countryside.

I could have gone on to explain to her that, indirectly, she was really harming herself, because by destroying this crop she was harming the production of meat, milk, and leather for her shoes. The point I am trying to make is that the Conservancy must try, through television and broadcasting, to educate the public that it is in their own interest that the countryside should be taken care of and respected by everyone.

My Lords, I am afraid I have rather wandered, but if I may just turn to the Report for a moment, I should like to follow the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and say a little about the island of Rhum. The Conservancy bought the island in 1957, and I can remember what rejoicing there was in certain quarters, what a wonderful thing it was, that this beautiful island had been bought for the people of this country. But, my Lords, as so often happens with land that is bought for the people by the State, the first thing that occurs is that up go the "Prohibited" notices. I do not want to make a Party point of this, but the Conservancy can exist only if it has public sympathy. I have heard rumours of discontent, that the public are not welcome in places like Rhum and other areas in the Highlands which have been bought by the Conservancy. I quite agree with the Conservancy that if a place is to be made a nature reserve the public cannot be permitted to stray all over it. But, here again, this matter must be explained to the public, otherwise there is bound to be feeling.


My Lords, I think I must tell my noble friend that the island of Rhum is far more open to the public under the ownership of the Nature Conservancy than it ever was under private ownership—indeed, far more so than his own hayfield was!


Perhaps the noble and learned Viscount is right about my hayfield; but in the Highlands, as the noble and learned Viscount knows only too well, under the Access to Mountains Act the whole of the Highlands in private hands are open to any member of the public to hike or camp on. But, of course, the Conservancy cannot allow this—and I am not objecting to the Conservancy's attitude: I am completely for it, as I think it highly desirable, if you are going to have a nature reserve, to make sure that it is secluded. But the danger, as I have said, is that the public may think that these reserves are to be kept as exclusive sanctuaries for favoured civil servants. I know this is a completely wrong idea, but it is possible that that idea could get around.


My Lords, it was precisely that reason which led me to interrupt my noble friend, because it would be a false idea if it got around in relation to the Island of Rhum.


My Lords, if I might stay on the Island of Rhum for a little while longer, I would point out that if your Lordships turn to page 14 you will see that the Conservancy have turned off all the sheep and cattle. The reason for so doing, according to the Report, is that the quality of the grazing had diminished under the joint grazing of the deer and the sheep. The result of turning off the sheep has been that the production of meat for human consumption, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, pointed out, has in fact increased. The average venison production has been 22,950 lb., as against 20,000-odd lb. from the production of sheep and cattle. Several landowners in the Highlands, myself included, have several times told the Board of Agriculture for Scotland that in certain areas of the Highlands it is far more economic to encourage the indigenous fauna, like the red deer, than to graze sheep. I myself have been forced to put sheep on land a great deal of which has been unsuitable, with dire consequences. If you get a bad winter, half of your stock can die.

So I am really interested in this experiment, which is also being tried out in Africa—I think in parts of Rhodesia—where the authorities have decided that it is really more economic to encourage the production of local antelopes for meat than to have cattle. But if I, as a private landowner, wanted to clear any ground of sheep and to encourage the deer, I should instantly be abused and told that I was despoiling the country for sport, driving people off the land, and all that nonsense.


My Lords, I must apologise for interrupting the noble Viscount, but I think he must realise that the Nature Conservancy took over this area with one specific object in mind, and that was to carry out research on the red deer.


My Lords, that is true, of course, but there are plenty of landowners who have carried out private research on the red deer. As if they had discovered something quite astounding, the Conservancy say on the first page: the island of Rhum is now yielding … a substantial amount of meat (in the form of venison) ready for human consumption. It seems a very strange remark for them to have made, because it is a foregone conclusion, and venison has always been fit for human consumption.


My Lords, I think the noble Viscount is misrepresent- ing what the Report said. What the Report said was that, after the culling programme of the very carefully managed type which they carried out, the weight of venison increased and, in fact, was more than that of the sheep plus the venison under previous management. That was indeed the object of the discovery, and although it may be extremely naïve to have made it, it is worth while saying that nobody had made it before.


My Lords, perhaps we should keep off the island of Rhum. Is it possible, I wonder, to return to this theme of educating the public in the great heritage that they have in our countryside? Is it possible for the Conservancy really to indulge in a campaign; for instance, by making, films for television to show mankind's great dependence on nature? You can easily show a pretty film of a bird laying its eggs, but that does not really convey anything to the public. What we want to show them is their dependence on those birds and animals and how the land generally is treated. That is the point I am trying to make.

A good deal has been said in this debate about toxic chemicals and I do not propose to delve into that subject very fully. People in the country have the evidence of their own eyes. I myself farm, and I am quite convinced that, for instance, the number of song birds in my part of the country is far smaller than it used to be. We have had the Sanders Report, and the Government warned the farmers and the trade about these toxic chemicals in the autumn of 1960. But in the 1961 sowing season the damage was really worse. I have seen the damage and apparently the warning had no result. These dressings—aldrin, dieldrin and heptachlor—have been banned for spring sowing, which is a very good step in the right direction. But I beg the Government to take a firm stand in this matter, and to be quite ruthless with vested interests. If these sprays and seed dressings are not checked, they will upset the whole balance of nature and have dire consequences for future generations in this country.

Even apart from seed dressings and chemicals generally, orchard growers come along and spray the trees to kill the insects which they think will harm their fruit. Then, of course, the birds have no insects to eat, because the sprays have killed them all. The fruit growers then say: "We must kill the birds", and so we go on and it becomes a continuous policy of destruction. In the end you will have only human beings left in the world—which, in my opinion, will make it an extremely dull world. So I ask the Government to take a firm line on this matter.

I should like to repeat only these two points. First, I think it is the most important part of the Conservancy's task that the public should be educated regarding the countryside, because we do not want to put the cart before the horse by having all these reserves from which the public will think they are excluded only through officialdom. That will cause only ill-feeling. The other thing I wish to say, as other noble Lords have said, is: for heaven's sake! take a strong line on these toxic sprays and chemicals, because they are a real danger, as anyone in the country fully knows.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, some years ago there was brought before the Bench of which I was Chairman a gentleman who was charged with uprooting a primrose from the roadside verge. We were satisfied that an offence had been committed, and we imposed a small fine. My Lords, there are now no primroses on that roadside verge: the local authority has killed them all. What I should be very interested to hear from the noble and learned Viscount is how it comes about that it is an offence to remove one primrose from a roadside verge but no offence to kill all the primroses on a roadside verge.

4.41 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to commend the work of the Nature Conservancy, and we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for keeping this matter in the forefront of our attention from time to time. Like my noble friend Lord Forbes, I believe that we are all truly lovers of nature, whether we are town-bred or country-bred. I believe, too, that, physically and mentally, it is only nature in its purest form, its wildest form, that really satisfies us. But the tragedy is that this modern age is driving nature further and further away from us, as populations spread over the land.

I do not think there is anything we can do about this. I suppose that industry has brought many benefits to our country, but I am afraid I must take the view that this is one of the tragedies that it has brought as well. That is why the work of the Nature Conservancy is of the most vital importance, and becomes increasingly so each year. I think we owe the Conservancy a great deal. We owe a particular debt, if I may say so, to the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, who has been its Chairman for so many years. I do not think any-one quite appreciates what he has done. In looking through the Appendix I find that he is a member of seven of the ten committees appointed by the Nature Conservancy. That must take up a great deal of his time. I am sure that we all appreciate very much the work that he has done. It must surely be a record.

I am mainly concerned, of course, with the work in Scotland, and I particularly want to commend the work of the Scottish Committee. The only other Scottish Member of your Lordships' House who is down to speak in this debate (I beg the noble Viscount's pardon; shall I say the only other representative Peer speaking?), apart from myself, is my noble friend Lord Forbes, who is, of course, a member of the Scottish Committee. He is far too modest to commend himself, but I think that this Committee has done an extremely good job. Scotland, of course, is largely responsible for the greatly increased acreage which we read has been taken over for nature reserves during the past year. This, of course, is no disparagement of England: it is very much easier to acquire land for these purposes in Scotland, as I think the Report makes quite clear. The land is held in fewer hands, and there is not the same competition for land use in the less populated parts of Scotland as there is in England, which of course makes negotiations proceed faster.

A great wealth of fauna and flora exists in Scotland, but in that very wealth lies danger, because the country is opening up very rapidly to tourism. That may well be for the benefit of Scotland, but I cannot believe that it is going to be for the benefit of the wild life of the country. What may happen is that soon the most remote places—places which may be the last refuge of nature; one might call them "nature's last stand"—will be available to everybody. It is for this reason that it is imperative that adequate control, protection and conservation be brought to bear before it is too late.

My Lords, I have merely mentioned that point. It is very obvious, but I do not think it can be said too often. I think, for example, that if many of our rarer species of wildfowl are to survive there must be some sort of control over every loch, bay or river estuary—in fact, any place where wildfowl flight or which they inhabit. I know that these rare birds are protected under the First Schedule to the Protection of Birds Act, 1954, which we passed through your Lordships' House, but I do not think that is enough. I think they require more protection. If permits for one area are limited, as has been done on the East Coast of Scotland, in Aberlady Bay, what happens is that all the people who cannot get permits to shoot there pass on to the next estuary; and they crowd in there and frighten all these birds away. They will go where they can shoot.

We do not want to deprive the genuine wildfowler of his sport—I think that has been said more than once in this House. The genuine wildfowler probably belongs to a wildfowlers' association. He is entitled to his sport; we admire him for lying out all night, in a cold wind, to get his brace of duck for the pot. He is usually a member of one of the wild-fowlers' associations, which have a strict code of rules. So far as I know, the association which shoots around my area adheres fairly strictly to those rules. I may be wrong in this, and the noble and learned Viscount will put me right if I am, but I believe that only 10s. is required to purchase a firearms certificate.


A gun licence.


But that includes a licence to buy an air gun, a 22 rifle—




Anyway, my Lords, what does happen is this: that everybody who can legally get hold of any sort of firearm comes out just for a jolly afternoon. I have known as many as 70 young men—they have been counted—all in a narrow river mouth area, shooting away at anything they can see, just for the fun of it. That is not going to help our wildfowl to come in. I read in Country Life that representations have been made to the Home Secretary about this problem. It is mainly a firearms matter, and therefore rather outside this debate. The National Farmers' Union put the matter in this way, and refer to the ease with which youths go marauding about the countryside shooting at any convenient target, live or dead, and appearing contemptuous of those who seek to restrain them". Anyway, they are a positive danger to one another.

I am glad to notice that a warden system is advocated in this Report, though I see difficulties in putting such a system into practice. If voluntary wardens could be found, and if they could be given the same authority as the police, that would go a long way towards improving the position. But Parliament has always been rather reluctant to give the power of arrest to people other than members of the police. I know that in poaching Bills and litter Bills we have tried to get these voluntary wardens introduced, but I think some reason has always been found against it.

May I say just one more word? Wild flora have been mentioned. Much of our wild flora used to thrive in hedgerows or in the open glens of our old woodlands, but it is now farming fashion to pull out all the hedges for convenience, and, of course, the heavy shade of closely-planted conifers prevents any vegetation from growing underneath. It is seven years since I had the honour to sit on a Committee, called the Committee on Hedgerow and Farm Timber, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr. One of the findings of that Committee was that: The wild flowers of Britain, like those of other countries, have their distinctive charm and character, and perhaps more than anything they teach us to appreciate the beauty of nature. Their common habitat is the hedgerow, and if, owing to modern farming methods the traditional hedge is to disappear, much of our heritage of wild flora will disappear with it. We think that the consequent loss to botanists, schools, rambling clubs and lovers of the countryside would be a calamity. To what extent the recommendations implied in that extract have been carried out, I do not know; but I fear, from looking round the countryside, not to a very great extent.

However, I came to commend the work of the Conservancy, not to criticise it. I believe that there is very little to criticise, and a great deal to commend. The research work done by the Conservancy particularly into soil degeneration up in the Highlands, which makes a good pointer to the use of land, is a very important example of their activities. Their close liaison with the Red Deer Commission has already been mentioned. These are only two aspects of their work; and there are many others. There are 28 nature reserves in Scotland, 23 of which, I understand, now have management plans. I hope that before long there will be many more, for this, to me, seems undoubtedly the best, in fact the only, way nowadays of preserving our wild life from all that threatens it.

4.53 p.m.


My Lords, I really did not intend to come here except as a listener and observer, but I notice in the Report a reference to Central Africa. Having just come back from Southern Rhodesia and Mozambique, I thought it might be interesting to introduce into this debate something that one could not help observing. First, I should like to say that various noble Lords have emphasised the degeneration of our flora and fauna in this country, and one of the serious aspects of it is the almost indiscriminate use of toxic chemical and weed killers. I remember soon after the last war driving along in the evening and seeing countless hosts of moths in front of the windscreen of my car. To-day, we hardly see one. I have not seen any for about ten years, I should think, which speaks for itself. I can think of nothing but the toxic weed killers which are doing this damage, for it must be admitted that it is damage.

The Report mentions on page 67 the excellent work done by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, particularly in Central Africa. One of the things which struck me very much in travelling as much as 5,000 miles in three months, on a busman's holiday of painting and collecting for Kew, was the nearly complete absence of mammalian life in the sense that there were hardly any buck. I think I saw only four buck the whole time, until, of course, we went into the nature reserves. We visited the one in Nairobi, where the lions were so tame that they were encircled by people with cameras photographing them. They were too lazy to get up and say "Good morning" to us! It was the same thing with the Gorongoza Game Reserve. The only thing we really had to be careful about were the elephants; the lions again were so tame that they did not take any notice of one at all. I felt like getting out of my car, but of course one is not allowed to.

I have mentioned this, because I had a talk with a very intelligent man, a Portuguese, who looked after the camp there, and I pointed out to him that to have the game preserved in a Game Reserve is not enough. It is necessary to have an ecological, overall view of the whole thing, to see the plants in relation to the animals, and the animals in relation to the plants. That had not struck him at all. He said, "Well, you complain about our bush fires, but we keep the trees which withstand the fires". I said, "That is all very well, but you never see a sapling. Take the fever trees. There are plenty of old fever trees about, and some young ones, but not a single sapling. If you go on having bush fires year after year as you do, you will soon have nothing but a plain." But he would not agree. At least I hope I have sown the seeds of a game reserve with the ecological aspect as important as the game themselves. I was very glad to see in this Report that the ecological side is emphasised very much indeed, and it is a very good thing. One is apt to lose sight of it. I hope that both in Central Africa and Southern Rhodesia, and also in Mozambique the authorities will eventually see the importance of that.

I should like to say how very much indebted we are to the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, for the excellent work he has done. I should also like to quote very shortly from this excellent Report about the meeting which I referred to, of the I.U.C.N. last year. The Report says: It was justly described as the most important gathering of conservationists and ecologists ever held in Africa, and was notable for the agreement attained over a wide range of problems, for the excellent harmony prevailing between scientists, administrators and political leaders from African states of the most diverse kinds extending from the Union to the Sudan, Liberia, and Senegal, and for the positive acceptance by African spokesmen of the obligation of trusteeship for wild life and natural resources. That is a very important matter, because if you really want to get to know something about the fauna and flora of a country you should go to the African. He knows far more about them than anybody else. Although I know he is accused of trapping and exterminating some of the fauna, he does know about it; and I have not the slightest doubt that, given the right education, he could be one of our best co-operators. My Lords, I have nothing more to say except that this discussion has been extremely interesting, and I think we have all learned a great deal from it.

4.58 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to start by echoing the sentiments of my noble friend Lord Shackleton in saying how pleased we are to see the noble and learned Viscount restored, at any rate to the outward eye, to his usual rude health. I do not know whether the sudden cure has been wrought by the innate strength of his nature, or whether, as Minister for Science, he has had to fall back on toxic or other chemicals to do it. At any rate, I hope that his appearance here to-day has not undone the good that has been done on previous days. I should also like personally to thank my noble friend for initiating this debate, which I am sure has been a useful one and to me has been a very interesting one. I must confess that, until this subject was put down for debate to-day, it was something in which I had a general and very amateurish interest, but not something about which I knew a great deal. I cannot pretend that I do now, though my knowledge has certainly been increased by listening to various noble Lords who have spoken.

It seems to me that the activities of the Nature Conservancy fall into three separate departments. First of all, there is what one might call the antiquarian activities; in other words, those which are concerned with preserving natural growths which are not of general interest but which are of interest to specialists, in exactly the same way as we have recently decided that the Temple of Mithras in the middle of the City should be preserved (though to my mind it is not a thing of any great beauty) because it is clearly unthinkable that a building of such great antiquity should be swept away in the march of progress and that posterity should never have a chance of seeing what it was like. Similarly, many things on these Islands which might well disappear if nature were allowed to have her way should be preserved for the specialist, for the scientist.

If your Lordships read through the Report, you will find that special steps are taken to preserve the osprey—I am sure an admirable form of bird, but one which does not appeal for any particular reason to many people; at Askham Bog, in Yorkshire, the semi-equatic weavil, which is known to your Lordships as Ephimeropus petro; at Penmoelallt, in Breconshire, the sorbus leyana, which your Lordships will undoubtedly recognise as the whitebeam, and at Morfa Harlech, in Merionethshire, the odontoscelis fuliginosa—I will not bother to translate to your Lordships what these are in ordinary language. All these are well worth preserving and it is right that we should have an organisation to deal with this subject.

But that is only one side of the activities of the Conservancy. The second one can be put in general terms under the heading of amenities. I know that the National Parks are primarily responsible for these, but there are many places which are not necessarily National Parks and which should be preserved, not in their original natural form but in their present form, as areas where people can enjoy nature, not in the raw but in a semi-controlled state. The New Forest and Epping Forest and places of that kind are all very desirable and we should preserve them as they are to-day. This necessitates doing a certain amount of work. We find that the Conservancy increases its good will among the public by spreading a love of the countryside among the uninitiated, the non-scientists, the non-country dwellers, and giving them an opportunity to see the countryside in certain attractive but not necessarily productive or economic aspects.

Whether the Island of Rhum, about which the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, spoke, should come into this category or not I do not know, but I should like to bear out what the noble and learned Viscount said: that in the old days under private ownership it was impossible to set foot on the Island of Rhum. I well remember, many years ago, when I was more irresponsible than I am now, being on an island close to Rhum in company with another noble Lord who usually sits on the opposite Benches, making plans for a poaching expedition to Rhum, to see whether we could come back with a stag. Unfortunately, the plans came to nothing, but I remember that it certainly was a place prohibited to all visitors. Now, even if certain areas of the island are restricted, it is at least something gained if people are allowed to set foot on the island and see a bit of it.


My Lords, anyone could land on Rhum if he had a boat or was a sufficiently strong swimmer. Surely it is the law that you cannot be kept off Rhum.


I think that the noble and learned Viscount who is going to reply is far more capable of dealing with that question when the time comes. On the matter of the controversy about deer versus sheep, which the noble Viscount raised, I would say that at some periods perhaps abuse might have been thrown at his head if he removed sheep from his land and encouraged stags and stalking, but I am not at all sure that he would not earn a debt of gratitude, and possibly even an O.B.E., from his noble friend Lord Waldegrave by reducing the number of sheep that are produced and thereby reducing the Supplementary Estimates which always cause so much embarrassment.

I turn to the third activity of the Conservancy, which is one which in general one can call the economic side. This has been dealt with extremely adequately by my noble friend Lord Shackleton and I do not want to go over any of the ground he has already trodden so thoroughly, but I do not think it can be stated too often, particularly in view of some of the speeches to which we have listened this afternoon, that the whole of cultivation, of agriculture, of food production, disturbs the balance of nature. That is something which we should not fight against. It is good and right. As the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, rightly said, his field of rye grass and clover is a complete disturbance of nature, but it is very right that he should treat his land in that way.

It is perfectly true that to-day we are disturbing nature possibly more than we have done in the past, though I am not sure that I can see a great deal of difference between controlling weeds with a mattock or plough and controlling them with chemicals of one kind or another. The weeds are killed, and that is the point of it. Some ways are more selective or less selective, but the principle is the same. But what we see to-day is a faster growth in the methods of disseminating knowledge, because of the increased education of people engaged in agriculture. New techniques and methods, when they appear, spread far more rapidly throughout the whole countryside, and if they do damage, the damage can be spread over wide areas before anybody notices it, much more than took place in the days when education in new techniques was not so great. That is the problem that must be watched. I have spoken about it on other occasions in your Lordships' House and make no apology for repeating it again. I am glad to see that the Conservancy and the other bodies and departments concerned are making far greater and much faster progress with this subject than they have done up to the present time.

I would suggest, in order to help with that work and the other activities with which the Conservancy are concerned, that there should be even greater co-operation and co-ordination than there is to-day between the Conservancy and other research institutions—the Agricultural Research Council, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, the Medical Research Council, the universities and the rest of the places that are interested, however remotely, in these problems. I know, and I am very glad it is so, that there are distinguished scientists representing all these bodies on the Conservancy, but co-operation must not be only at high levels; it must go all the way down, so that the lowest and most junior research workers have a chance of getting together with their opposite numbers in different places, working in different faculties of universities, and of hearing by personal contact and even by after-dinner gossip what is going on, what new lines are being evolved and what new forms of research are being contemplated. I believe that the Agricultural Research Council have a system of occasional parties in order to bring people together to do this sort of thing, and if the Nature Conservancy, through its different activities at Monks Wood and elsewhere, could do this it would be of great help, and particularly to the people actually doing the work.

There is a further point here where I should like to see more work done by the Nature Conservancy, and that is in catching up on past gaps in our knowledge and past omissions. We are sadly lacking in all sorts of basic groundwork information about wild life. As an example, last year we had a widespread complaint about birds that were being picked up dead. But we did not know how many birds were being picked up dead, over what area and at what periods. In my own case, I remember that I came back from abroad towards the end of March and was met with sad stories of the widespread desolation of partridges and pheasants. I asked the keeper how many he had picked up on the day he came to tell me about it, and on that day he had not picked up any. I asked him about the day before, and the number was one. He could not remember the number for the day before that—but he knew there was an enormous number of birds dying. I still do not know how many birds died; but I do know that in this past shooting season, in my own case, we have seen and shot more pheasants and partridges than we have done for the past 30 or 40 years.

I am not saying that in order to suggest to your Lordships that this whole question of birds dying from chemicals is poppycock: it is not; I know that they did die. But we want to know more about it. We want to know, as I say, how many die and over what area, and in ordinary circumstances, in normal years, what is the usual wastage of birds, plants and the rest. That is basic information which to-day we do not have and which must be supplied by the Nature Conservancy, if by nobody else, and I hope in co-operation with any other departments of zoology and, in the case of plants, botany which interest themselves in these things.

To move now to a point which has not yet received attention from any noble Lord who has spoken, I was interested to read in the Report, on pages 44 and 45, about the work that is being done in regard to oil pollution and the damage to sea birds. That seems to me to be a very important job. It is a real menace which, except sporadically, receives far too little attention; and I am glad to see that the Inter-governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation is going to have a conference on March 26 to discuss this question. I very much hope that the Nature Conservancy will take a strong line and be able to reach international agreement in order to prevent the serious menace to wild life, particularly birds, round our shores from the disposal of vast quantities of oil, sometimes by mistake and sometimes deliberately, which has done so much damage.

I was glad to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, mentioning his experience overseas, because that also is one of the activities of the Nature Conservancy which seem to me of enormous value and for which perhaps they do not receive quite enough praise. I know it is a small part of their activities and that they have only a small amount of money with which to do these things. But in this country we have experienced men who understand the problems of conservation of wild life and plant life, particularly in Africa, but also in other parts of the world; and with this move towards independence throughout the whole of the former Colonial Empire it is only right that we should encourage that experience and make sure that the experience we have is available for the new independent countries. In doing that we shall achieve, at relatively little expense, a great deal of good will from those countries, and also do a great deal of good over a long period. I am glad to see that these activities are now transferred to the Department of Technical Co-operation, and I hope that this new department will find both its feet and its wings and spread the knowledge that we have in this country, through the Nature Conservancy, very far and very wide.

There is a further reason for this on which the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, touched—namely, that any of the problems which we have in this country of unbalance of nature, disturbing existing balance and the rest, however serious they may be here, are liable to be far more serious in tropical countries. There are two reasons for this. First, there is the one given by the noble Lord that there is an insufficent number of knowledgeable people using these new sprays and new techniques and an insufficient number of technically qualified people watching and checking on the results. The second reason is that in the tropics any reaction takes place so much faster than it does in more temperate climates, so that anything that may go wrong in this country over a period of ten years might well cause extensive damage in a matter of only two years if it is made use of in tropical countries.

There is only one other thing I want to say, and it refers to this sordid question of cash. The Nature Conservancy, which on the whole has received little but praise from your Lordships and is universally accepted as doing an immensely valuable job and one that has not only immediate importance but an importance spreading over the future much farther than we can see, received a total amount from the Exchequer last year of £413,000—a very small sum. It is not just that it is a small amount, but if your Lordships study this Report, as I am sure many of us have, you will see that in the opinion of the Nature Conservancy, it is a totally inadequate amount. On page 31 of the Report mention is made of the Interdepartmental Hydrological Research Group, and at the bottom of the second paragraph it says this: Meanwhile, although a number of experiments are being pursued, money is needed for adequate scientific research. There is no need to remind your Lordships, after the debate a few weeks ago on Ullswater and the need of Manchester for further water supplies, how urgent that form of research is, and how intolerable it is that this essential research for resolving this whole problem of water should be held up by the shortage of money.

On page 57 research studentships, a most valuable activity, is referred to. This gives encouragement and provides opportunities for learning and for simple forms of research which will lead to greater and more valuable contributions. There it is stated: Although the Conservancy had originally hoped that the number of awards they could make available in 1961 would be increased to twenty, it was necessary for financial reasons to restrict the number to fourteen, as in the previous year. On page 69, dealing with the overseas problem, the Report says: The Conservancy find themselves in a position of some embarrassment on account of the many urgent requests for advice and help from overseas territories. … It seems evident that there are many cases in which the United Kingdom cannot disclaim responsibility fox giving such advice … And although it does not actually spell it out, it refers to more money to enable them to do so.

Finally, at page 73—perhaps the most disturbing feature of this whole Report—it is stated: In effect, development may be said to be practically at a standstill in 1961–62 except that the Conservancy have been able to make some progress in staff recruitment and to begin building their Experimental Station at Monks' Wood … That is under the heading of "Finance", because the money simply was not available for that purpose.

I hope that all that has been said in your Lordships' House this afternoon will go a long way towards convincing, perhaps not the noble Viscount, because maybe he is already convinced, but those of his colleagues who control the finances of the country that the work of the Conservancy is valuable work. Some of it shows an economic return, and some of it can show an economic return quite quickly. But it is also of value for these other reasons which have been brought out during, the debate, and surely this country is not so poor to-day that it can afford only £413,000 in order to help this work reach its proper achievement.

5.22 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with my noble friend Lord Shackleton, particularly in commending the ecological research which is being conducted by the Nature Conservancy, and to plead for a great deal more of it. This is a phase of research which has been very much neglected in the past, except for a few pioneer efforts such as those of the Soil Association. There is an enormous field here which is still unexplored.

Reference has been made to-day to the dangers of upsetting the balance of nature, and we are all aware of that in a general sense, but I do not think anybody knows exactly how much the balance of nature is being upset at the present day by the enormously rapid development which has taken place in the last quarter of a century or so in the application of chemicals to agriculture. I know it can very easily be said that agriculture itself has upset the balance of nature; but that, for the most part, has been a slow evolution in which man has discovered by trial and error what it is safe to do and what it is not safe to do. But time is mot permitting of the discovery of these things at the present moment nearly as rapidly as they should be discovered.

Mention has been made to-day—and we had a discussion about it some time ago—of the destruction of birds and other creatures by agricultural chemicals, particularly those used as seed dressings, but there are a great many other effects which are far less obvious but which also require investigation. There is the effect of sprays of various kinds upon the micro-organisms which populate the soil and which play an important and essential part in soil fertility; and the build-up of toxic chemicals in the soil may in course of time have a profound effect upon them. In that way, of course, it may have a profound effect upon the lives of human beings, who also are part of the whole ecological picture—not something standing outside of it and entirely uninfluenced by what is happening. I hope that more will be done to investigate these things and, indeed, to conduct the investigation at a sufficiently early stage, instead of leaving it, as we tend to do now, to allow things to be brought into widespread use as a result of great ingenuity on the part of the chemists and other people who are employed by the manufacturers, as a result, no doubt, of their demonstration that these things will perform certain useful functions. It does not follow that they will not have other side effects which may take time to develop but which may, in fact, far outweigh the benefits which appear to be obtained in the first instance.

I think far too much attention has been devoted to chemical means of controlling pests, for example, whereas in nature they are controlled by predators of various kinds, and a balance is established in that way. I do not know whether much research has been done in this country upon this subject, but in some other countries, certainly, research has been done on the value of predatory insects, for instance in eliminating those which are adverse to the growth of crops and fruits. That is an example of ecological research which may pave the way to dispensing with a great many of the expensive and dangerous treatments which are in operation at the present time.

There are also the side effects which may happen from the use of sprays, not merely to the crops, but upon the hedgerows and the natural vegetation of the countryside itself, with consequent destruction of insects of various kinds which play their part in nature, and some of which may play an extremely useful part. This is such an enormous field of research, potentially so important and useful, that I feel something ought to be done to develop it to a much greater extent than at present, and to make certain that it is co-ordinated with other fields of research in order to ensure that dangerous chemicals and processes are not put into operation before there has been an opportunity of ascertaining, so far as it is possible—and I admit it is very difficult—the potential ultimate effects which may outweigh the immediate beneficial ones.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, I crave your Lordships' indulgence for intervening, but I should like to say a few words on this Motion which has been so excellently presented by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I am in sympathy, as I am sure we all are, with the work of the Nature Conservancy, but I hope that, in all their deliberations, at the back of their minds they will always keep the balance of nature. I now speak not about plants, of which I know nothing, but about the animal world, in which I include birds. I have been a country dweller for many years, and if one lives primarily in the country one grows up with it and one learns to appreciate the wonderful thing that is the balance of nature. Some Almighty Being has organised this in a way that no human, no society, no foundation and no one else could have done.

May I give just one small example, which I do not think is individual to myself; in fact, I am sure many of your Lordships here have experienced it in recent years. In my area some five or six years ago there was a concerted drive against the grey squirrel. This was backed by a grant—I think it was 1s. a tail, but personally I found that it cost more in cartridges. To all intents and purposes the grey squirrel in my area was exterminated. What was the immediate result? Within twelve months we were absolutely swamped with pigeons. The grey squirrel is not a true squirrel; he is an American tree rat. His favourite diet is eggs, and I think particularly pigeons' eggs, and he kept down the number of pigeons to a very great extent. The pigeon is a worse menace to the farmer or the fruit grower than the rabbit, and heaven knows what we have done to him, poor devil! That is just one example of our upsetting the balance of nature.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in his speech referred to the possibility of hovercraft in the future affecting the lives, habits, migrationary instincts et cetera, of birds. I do not subscribe to his fear in this regard. I had some experience shortly after the First World War, when a friend of mine owned a small moor in South Ayrshire. One of the first airlines from Glasgow or Edinburgh to Northern Ireland flew directly over this moor; and in those days I doubt whether the aircraft flew at more than 500 feet. For one year the grouse put their heads down and if there was an aeroplane in the area you could not get them anywhere. Within twelve months it made no difference to them. They had become accustomed to them. I think the danger from the hovercraft that the noble Lord envisages will possibly have an effect in the early stages, but that nature will again adjust itself to this problem.


My Lords, would the noble Earl allow me to interrupt? I was not worried very much about the disturbance to birds because of aircraft, but the actual destruction of, let us say, a reed bed. Even if the aircraft he mentioned were flying low, they were certainly not flying as low as hovercraft will. We do not know what impact these hovercraft will have in an area where possibly nobody goes at all; where the area is equivalent to a nature reserve or some special site. These hovercraft might completely destroy the natural habitat of certain creatures. I was not thinking of birds only.


I think that on that thesis I would agree with the noble Lord. It is a problem which has to be considered, but I am inclined to believe that, with the passage of time, his fears may not be so well founded.

The noble Earl, Lord Haddington, referred to wild-fowlers and stressed the point that they are under control and had abided by the rules which have been laid down by their society for the reasonable shooting of wild fowl. I think it is only in the very few cases of those who are not members of wild-fowling associations that any indiscriminate shooting and killing takes place; and I should like to pay a tribute to the wild-fowling associations for their cooperation in the conservation of wild fowl in every way.


My Lords, I am afraid, in my own defence, I must say that the noble Earl's view is exactly contrary to mine.


I think I would support my noble friend in what he has said throughout this afternoon. There is one other point. He has spoken on nature conservancy, and during the speeches this afternoon the term "nature reserves" has cropped up from time to time. That may perhaps evoke some doubt in your Lordships' minds as to whether the two are synonymous or whether there is a difference. As I understand it, the Nature Conservancy will go to any lengths, and rightly, to preserve and try to stimulate the reproduction of an animal group or bird group indigenous to these islands which is in danger of extinction; and to do that it may be necessary in the immediate vicinity of where these particular animals are mating, nesting or breeding to adopt stringent measures against their natural predators in order to give them the chance to get a footing once again to reproduce their species to a reasonable degree and to the point where they can then be left to survive by their own natural instincts.

Therefore, while I support this conservation and the possible destruction of a number of predators in the early stages of the preservation and resurrection of a breed, I hope that the Conservancy will, as soon as the moment arises and they think proper, leave the breed or species to fend for itself and not preserve it at the expense of other of our natural fauna. I think that is all I have to say, and I apologise for taking your Lordships' time.

5.39 p.m.


My Lords, I find myself very much in sympathy with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, about the importance of ecology and also, I gather, by my noble friend Lord Shackleton, of whose speech, unfortunately, I was able to hear only the last passages. I think the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat was saying much the same thing when he talked about preserving the balance of nature, although I was not quite sure that the grey squirrel was the best illustration that he could have given of that case. Somebody rather disturbed the balance of nature when the grey squirrel was imported into this country, with the result that in most of England, at any rate, it is driving out the red squirrel, which is a much more beautiful creature and, of course, the native type of squirrel.

I should like to say a few words about that point later, but before doing so I should like to confirm what the noble and learned Viscount who leads the House said about Rhum. The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, suggested that the Nature Conservancy had been making it very difficult for people to go to the isle of Rhum. Before the Conservancy took control of the island, when I was staying on the island just opposite the isle of Rhum and wished to go across there to climb the lovely mountain and made inquiries, I was told that I ought to have started weeks before, and that, even then, I might not have succeeded in getting a permit. It has been undoubtedly very difficult indeed to get on to the isle of Rhum living memory, and the noble and learned Viscount was undoubtedly right in his interjection on that point.

This problem of ecology, which is of basic importance to science, was a good deal in the news some years ago, but unfortunately it seems to have attracted much less attention of late years. I have no doubt whatever that the Nature Conservancy are very much alive to its importance. They are not primarily appointed for the purpose of conducting research, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Walston, pointed out, the amount of finance they receive is not sufficient to enable them to do many of the things they would undoubtedly like to do. But I have not the slightest doubt that they are alive to the importance of the ecological significance of their work.

If I may be allowed a personal reminiscence, I once had the very great pleasure of accompanying the present Director of The Nature Conservancy to the Swiss National Park in the Inn Valley, where very interesting and valuable work in ecology is carried on. I think I see him in the Chamber—though possibly I should not refer to this. We had the privilege of being shown over this admirable work by Professor Handschin, a member of the Swiss National Park Commission, as it were, a very eminent ecologist of Basle University, whose death during the last few weeks the scientific world has been mourning. So that I have not the slightest doubt that The Nature Conservancy is very much alive to the importance of this question. I should like, however, to support what the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, said about the essential importance of getting on with this work and making its importance more widely known; and that is the point I should like to emphasise, in these few remarks.

This Report, which we find such an interesting and valuable document, is most educational. I always try to do my best to look through its pages when it comes out. It may be that pressure is so great that I do not have the chance of reading it all through, and it may be that the Report contains more about the ecological significance of the work of the Conservancy than I have been able to find, but, so far as I have seen, there is on this problem not much more than about a page which is devoted largely to some work going on in the coastal areas. I believe that it would enhance the value of the Report a great deal if this side of the work could be written in rather more fully.


My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt my noble friend, since he admits that he has not read the Report fully. In fact rather more than half of the Nature Conservancy's money goes to research; and if the Nature Conservancy is not about ecology I do not know what it is about. It seems to me almost wholly an ecological Report.


That is not quite the view that I should take of it. It may well be that most of it has an indirect bearing on the ecological side of the matter, but I should not have thought than any ordinary person, of the kind who is a member of a rambling club or of one of the various societies closely concerned to be educated in this matter, could possibly, on reading this Report, have grasped the ecological significance of what is going on. I am not appealing on behalf of people like the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who are versed in science and can read between the lines; I am appealing for the ordinary rambler, and the ordinary men and women of that kind, who are extraordinarily interested in the work of the Nature Conservancy, and great supporters of it, and many of whom are readers of this Report. But they are not sufficiently founded in biological science to appreciate exactly what is no doubt revealed to the expert scientist, like my noble friend, in the pages before him.

What I would appeal for is that this particular aspect of the matter might be borne in mind, in order that the require- ments of men and women like these may be the better satisfied. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, will not feel that I am "teaching my grandmother to suck eggs," to use the proverbial expression, but will remember that there are very large numbers, especially of the younger citizens, who are fascinated by these problems but to whom the matter might well be made much clearer.

5.47 p.m.


My Lords, until the noble Lord, Lord Walston, spoke about my rude health, I was about to ask for the indulgence of the House if it should appear that I gave, in answer to this interesting debate, a slightly less audible and more perfunctory reply than I should otherwise have liked to do. I am somewhat short of breath and voice; indeed, at one time it looked as if I should not be able to attend the debate at all. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in his kindly remarks pointed out, this is the first debate, I think, of any length, in either House of Parliament upon the Nature Conservancy, for which I have been responsible now for four years, and it would have been a great disappointment to me had I not been able to answer the debate myself, especially as the subject is, although not at all uninteresting, not at all uncomplicated either.

The Nature Conservancy is itself still the smallest, although not by any means the least important or the least interesting, of the bodies for which I answer in Parliament. It has resemblances to and differences from the other bodies which I think are necessary to understand in order to appreciate the exact bearing of the Report. Like the other bodies for which I am responsible, it is governed by an autonomous Board. I think it is important to emphasise this and at the same time to join with other noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon in paying tribute to members of the Board who give their work to this important matter; in particular to the present Chairman of the Board, Lord Hurcomb, who is a most distinguished Member of your Lordships' House; the Chairman-designate, Lord Howick of Glendale, whom I was very lucky to be able to persuade to take his place, as well as the past Chairmen, Sir Arthur Tansley and Sir Arthur Duncan, who are not Members of this House.

I think it is important to emphasise this fact: that my responsibilities in the matter fall far short of the actual administration exercised by a departmental Minister, although they go far beyond that of mere sponsorship. I think this is as it should be, and it is a point of general significance. It is not simply that it is not desirable for matters of this kind to be under what is sometimes called a fully-fledged Ministry of Science; it is that they could not be done at all by a fully-fledged Ministry as they are being done at the moment by those who carry on the work as autonomous bodies under the general responsibility of the Minister for Science. In practice, I keep extremely close contact with the Conservancy and express my views quite freely. In return, I respect its scientific integrity and accord it a wide independence of judgment, I think this is the rôle which Parliament really has cast for me in the Act and Charter under which the Conservancy is set up. If so, I hope that I shall be supported in maintaining this position, because it is not always easy to do so—there are some who would like me to interfere to a greater extent than I do, and of course I can only respect the integrities of the bodies for which I speak, and of which I am not a member, to the extent that Parliament supports me in so doing.

Although it is the smallest of the five or six bodies for which I answer in Parliament, like the other bodies for which I am responsible, the Nature Conservancy has had a very rapid growth indeed. Indeed, I think I can say without doubt that, apart from the Atomic Energy Authority, which had its most rapid period of growth before I came to be responsible for it, the scientific bodies for which I speak have since then grown more rapidly than any other Government Department. In 1955, the Nature Conservancy was receiving a sum of something of the order of £200,000. In the current year, that is to say, 1961–62, the figure is likely to be £535,000; and in the year to come, 1962–63, it is likely to be just short of £600,000—namely, £590,000. I think, therefore, it is fair to say that it has had a most satisfactory rate of growth. I must impress upon the House, first of all, that it is, I think, not just in those circumstances to talk about a cut in its estimate. Its estimate will have increased by something like 12 per cent. between the current year and the next year. Secondly, quite apart from the general questions of financial discipline which have to be observed in scientific bodies, no less than in any others, there is an optimum rate at which bodies composed of human beings, particularly of distinguished human beings, can be made to grow. I should not myself in the least doubt that its growth will continue in a healthy manner from year to year until it reaches its optimum, which will not be yet.

So far, my Lords, the Nature Conservancy is like the other Councils for which I speak. But, unlike the other bodies for which I speak, the Conservancy is not solely concerned with scientific research. In the ecological field scientific research constitutes, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, pointed out, an extremely important part of its work. I shall be reverting to that side of its work in the course of my remarks. But it is, of course, concerned with conservation, which is not primarily research work but is work that has to be carried out. Conservation is something which is done partly by the constitution of nature reserves, to which again I will come and which, I must insist, have nothing whatever to do with national parks. I think that is at the bottom of some of the complaints of some of my noble friends; they think that a nature reserve is something like a national park. It is quite a different conception and a quite different sort of animal altogether. Nobody must think that a nature reserve is there simply for the delectation of the public, in the sense that Scafell is there for the delectation of the public; it is there as a matter of scientific interest, sometimes for research and sometimes for preservation.

Quite apart from the reserves, to which again I will come, the Nature Conservancy is concerned necessarily with education and public relations, to a degree quite different from that of the other Research Councils which are concerned with scientific matters. This is because conservation can be carried out only by the general public over a great part of the country. I think several noble Lords, have, in effect, pointed this out, but this is the essence of the matter. It must have the farming community on its side; it must have the local authorities on its side; it must have the landowner on its side, and it must have bodies like the Wildfowl Trust and the rambling societies on its side, because all these bodies can, in individual instances, have an immense effect upon the conservation of nature. It follows, therefore, that the Nature Conservancy is not the same as the other Research Councils.

The differences reflect themselves in its organisation. For instance, whereas the Research Councils have, in the main, Fellows of the Royal Society and distinguished natural scientists as their Secretaries, the Nature Conservancy has a most distinguished administrator, who was recruited from the Lord President's office. I would, perhaps improperly, pay a tribute to him. At any rate, the Board contains not only scientists but landowners; it contains Peers, as we have heard. I should like to acknowledge the public work done by them, including my noble friend Lord Forbes, who has spoken as a member of the Scottish Committee. Then there are at least two Members of Parliament, one drawn from each of the major Parties. It contains, also, amateur naturalists, because being a naturalist is one of the few ways in which an amateur can still do valuable scientific work. As a rule, science has got beyond the amateur nowadays, but in geological and natural studies this is not altogether so. I should like to welcome them, too.

The difference between the Conservancy and the other Research Councils also reflects itself in the nature of the Report which we are discussing. It is much longer. It contains attractive illustrations and a good deal of argumentative matter. The other scientific Council Reports are much more formal, because they rely to a much greater extent upon the ordinary scientific learned publications for the publication of their results. This, I would say, to some extent explains the point which arose during the time when the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, was speaking. When you are doing the purely scientific work which is done by Government scientists, it is published in the ordinary way in scientific newspapers and publications. The contents of an Annual Report do not usually repeat that; it deals from time to time with matters of more general interest in relation to the work of the Council. In the case of the Nature Conservancy the Report is, in fact, much longer and fuller, for the reason that I have given, than those of the other Councils for which I speak.

Another feature which I think puts the Conservancy on a slightly different footing from the other Councils is that it must from time to time, publicly or privately, engage in controversial matters. For instance, your Lordships will probably have noticed at the time, though it may not now be present to your Lordships' minds, that when a public inquiry was held about Dungeness Power Station the Director-General of the Nature Conservancy gave evidence, and was severely, and I thought quite improperly, criticised by counsel for the Central Electricity Board for having done so. It seemed to me quite inevitable that in a matter of that kind the Nature Conservancy should play a part. It had a good deal to say, both about the value of Dungeness as a physical feature of our island, which presents some most interesting scientific features, but also about its position as a place where birds rest after their crossing of the sea.

It seemed to me to be perfectly proper that in one form or another the Nature Conservancy should give evidence at a public inquiry where interests of that kind were involved; although I make no complaint about the decision of the inquiry, which was in the end that the power station should be built. I supported the Conservancy over this, although I say, quite frankly, that I usually try to urge them to rely where possible on private consultation rather than to engage in public controversy.

Also, of course, conservation involves holding relatively large areas of land, the nature reserves, and making agreements with owners in relation to others. That again means that the public relations aspect of the Nature Conservancy is a matter of very great importance to them. No other Council for which I speak, except perhaps the Atomic Energy Authority, has a similar problem. The Nature Conservancy is a very large landowner indeed, relatively speaking, and takes a pride in good neighbourliness, in good relations with the local authorities and in good relations with associations of sportsmen or climbers who happen to want to use the land too. It was for this reason that I ventured to interrupt my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard when he was talking about the Island of Rhum, because it seemed to me—and this goes back some years now, although it was within my period of office—that the Nature Conservancy came in for a slightly unfair criticism about the Island of Rhum which, as I told your Lordships, was very closely guarded by the family that owned it, and in respect of which the Nature Conservancy has very much relaxed the regulations which were imposed by its former owners. But the Nature Reserve is itself an open-air laboratory, and one has to recognise that the indiscriminate presence at an open air laboratory of visitors can lead to interference with the scientific work that is going on.

The noble Lord, Lord Walston, I am sure would not do it nowadays, but he did contemplate, at least, an act which would have interfered with the very carefully arranged culling programme of the red deer and might have vitiated the final results, especially if his action had gone unnoticed, as no doubt he hoped it would. For these reasons it is necessary to impose certain restrictions on access. I would say this, as one who in the dim past has been a mountaineer: that the Island of Rhum is one of two places in this country—Skye being the other one—where there is an outcrop of Gabbro rock which leads to very good climbing. There are no facilities for rescue there, and it is not a good thing in such an area to give absolutely unlimited access to people who may not be familiar with the mountain conditions, which can be extremely dangerous, especially at certain times of the year.

While I am referring to the reserves I think I should deal more fully with them. During the early years of the Conservancy's life the reserves took up most of its resources and also preoccupied the Conservancy more than they will do when they reach their final form. The original programme was to acquire control over areas totalling about 250,000 acres spread over some 140 reserves. This programme has been reviewed from time to time and still remains the broad objective. It was endorsed by the House of Commons Select Committee on Estimates in their Seventh Report in 1958; after a detailed examination of the plans they said that on the whole they upheld it. Up to now 95 reserves have been declared in Great Britain, covering 180,000 acres, so that the task is about two-thirds of the way towards completion.

It is the Conservancy's desire to complete the programme as soon as practicable, in order to secure a full range of conditions where certain types of flora and fauna can flourish in a favourable environment, and to establish these areas as reserves before the character of the land is altered—sometimes, as noble Lords have pointed out, in directions which cannot be reversed. When these reserves are established, some are to be used for scientific experiments and research. The remainder are not simply protected from external interference and then left to their own devices, because, as noble Lords have said, nature does not stand still: conservation does not mean neglect that could lead over the course of years to the disappearance of the very features which it is designed to conserve. Therefore, a Management Plan has to be worked out for each Reserve, requiring the control or culling of animal life, the clearance of scrub, in addition to the normal maintenance work of fencing and ditching, and so on, which is an essential part of estate management. These Management Plans now cover about two-thirds of the reserves so far acquired.

The reserves of course vary enormously in size. The smallest are only a few acres; the largest are five of over 10,000 acres. Of these, four, including the 40,000 acre reserve in the Cairngorms and the Island of Rhum, are in Scotland. In its acquisition of property the Conservancy has sought to enlist the cooperation of land-owners so far as possible. It usually tries either to lease the property or to make an agreement with the owners for the management of the area as a nature reserve. Only about one-third of the nature reserve acreage has had to be bought by the Conservancy, and I am glad to say that the powers of compulsory purchase it possesses have never in fact been used. I think on the whole that reflects credit on all concerned.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred to other sites, which are not reserves, of special scientific interest which the Conservancy has surveyed in co-operation with naturalists' trusts and other voluntary bodies. Those sites are notified to the local planning authorities and to their owners and occupiers, but, as the noble Lord pointed out, they do not enjoy the same degree of protection as the nature reserves, and some have been lost to farming and forestry operations and to mineral, industrial and housing development. I do not think that I can give the exact figures for which the noble Lord asked. There are, I think, some 1,700 sites already designated, of which it might be said 22 have been lost, and there are another 200 sites, in addition to the 1,700, which have not yet been designated but which are likely to be designated.

As the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and other noble Lords have said, the policy of conservation reflects only a part of the Conservancy's activities. As to the other part, it is concerned partly with ecological research, partly with scientific advice, and partly with liaison with other similar bodies in other parts of the world. As soon as the reserves programme approaches completion the Conservancy will be able to concentrate more and more, as I hope it will, on its research and on its advisory work. This was, I think, in accordance with the recommendation of the Estimates Committee, and I think both myself and the Conservancy agree with this policy.

A great deal has been said about the science of ecology. It is of course a complex matter, being of its nature a study of variables, drawing on the other classic disciplines of science perhaps, rather than being in itself a new discipline. Nature, itself, is an imprecise term. I suppose that when the white man first went to America one could say there was something called nature with which the red man had a kind of ecological balance and, as violent disturbances took place as a result of the white man's presence, that balance was upset. There were startling events of one sort or another and even whole species were exterminated, as the American pigeon was exterminated, or very nearly exterminated, and as the American bison was very nearly exterminated. The Caledonian Forest at the moment is, I suppose, very largely grouse moor and deer forest, but we do not see very many trees on it, which is a result of man's interference hundreds of years ago.

When I was a child I used to walk on the South Downs. The South Downs then looked like what we should call part of our unspoiled natural heritage. It was almost entirely man-made. The nice short, springy turf, the blue butterflies, were a product of sheep grazing, sheep having been introduced by the human species; and part of the flora and fauna as well as the shape of the land have very largely been determined by the fact that in the Iron Age men had ploughed it and tilled it and used it for wheat growing—which in fact it was used for again in my middle years, during the war. So nature is not an altogether easy conception in the British Isles. I sometimes hear debates about the Christchurch Meadow but, as I look at it with an ecological eye, I see that it has been denuded of lime for a very long time, and has a very large variety of weed life, part of which grows on a rubbish dump of more than an acre in extent. However, I must not transgress into other functions too far outside the Nature Conservancy.

Of course, I would agree with the noble Lords who have stressed the importance of the study of ecology. It is not a particularly well-tilled field of study, not as well-tilled as it might be, straddling as it does several more precisely definable disciplines. Therefore I do encourage the Conservancy, within its resources, in building up research effort. We cannot, I think, expect immediate, quick results from research of this kind. But, if your Lordships will refer to Chapter IV of the Report, you will see a number of examples.

One programme is on Woodlands and Population Dynamics. The Conservancy's largest research station is at Merlewood near Grange-over-Sands, Which I visited some two years ago, where a team of botanists, chemists, mycologists and zoologists is studying the biological and physical processes which operate in woodlands. They are, of course, concerned to understand how the natural woodland works. I think it would delight the hearts of the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, and the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, to see how the multitude of living organisms in and above a forest soil interact with one another and with the mineral and organic materials in the soil. The Conservancy is studying the cycles and rates of flow of energy and plant nutrients into the vegetation, and back, by means of the decomposing animals and microbes, into the soil again. It covers a vast complex of processes involving the interactions of plants, animals, bacteria and fungi.

Inevitably, a programme such as this must be long-term. It may have potential applications. It may spread through forestry, agriculture and, indeed, all land use. For example, for several essential plant nutrients, such as nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus, detailed balance-sheets have been prepared showing not only the nutrient capital, as it were, but also additions and withdrawals made from it at different stages of woodland development. From an examination of these sheets it is possible to determine the extent to which foresters can remove produce and the nutrients it contains without endangering the soil reserves and destroying the biological equilibrium. I think the importance of these studies has been widely recognised and, following the British lead, other work of the same kind is now being done in other countries, including New Zealand, the United States, and Thailand. Other types of project which the Conservancy undertakes are sometimes related to more specific practical problems, such as coastal erosion. Research by the Nature Conservancy reveals that vegetation management can be used in some places to stabilise shores and to prevent erosion more cheaply and to better effect than concrete.

Many noble Lords—I think it would almost be invidious to mention them by name, because there were so many—have referred to the use of toxic chemicals in agriculture. A recent Report of the Research Study Group, which I think is known as the Sanders Report, certainly establishes that we do not know as much as we should about the effects of these chemicals and it recommended increased effort in specific areas of research. The areas concerned are, of course, extremely wide. Some of the work will be done by the Agricultural Research Council, some by the Ministry of Agriculture itself, some by the Government Chemist, who works under the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, and same by the Nature Conservancy. There is a Committee, under the chairmanship of Professor Frazer, of the Agricultural Research Council, which I set up precisely for the purpose of seeing that the Report is pursued in its appropriate spheres by the appropriate scientific organisation. The Nature Conservancy, with which we are concerned to-day, is responsible for the study of the effects on wild life and the natural environment. The new experimental station at Monks' Wood, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said, will be undertaking research on this subject.

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, too, who referred to the work on hydrological research, undertaken by the Nature Conservancy and by other bodies under my responsibility. We clearly have to learn more about the factors affecting our water supplies if we are to make the best use of them. Several bodies have responsibilities here. The Geological Survey, which comes under the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, the Meteorological Office, the Hydraulics Research Station at Wallingford, and the various interests are brought together in a Committee on Hydrological Research under a D.S.I.R. chairman, which I think was set up last year, again partly as a result of the formation of the Ministry over which I preside.

The special contribution of the Nature Conservancy, Who are, of course, represented on this Committee, is in the study of the influences of different forms of land use and land management on the evaporation and run-off elements in the hydrological cycle. The Conservancy is conducting investigations and experiments in extensive watershed areas—of course, it owns an enormous area of about 10,000 acres on the Pennines—and is providing staff for a new Catchment Research Unit which will be established initially at the D.S.I.R. Hydraulics Research Station at Walling- ford. Your Lordships will observe that this again establishes the need for a co-ordinating Ministry, although, as I said at the outset, the work has to be carried out by working scientists operating under Research Councils.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Walston, referred to work in the universities, and in all the fields of research undertaken by the Research Councils it is necessary that they should be kept in close touch with work being carried on in corresponding fields in the universities. One very successful way of achieving this is for the Councils to award grants to universities and other institutions for research projects and investigations. This was one of the fields in which the Select Committee on Estimates recommended expansion by the Nature Conservancy, and I have fully supported their recommendations. Annual expenditure on such research grants has, in fact, increased from £9,000 in 1954–55 to £29,000 in 1960–61, and I think that the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Walston, based on a passage in the Report, should be read in the light of that very large rate of increase.

These grants promote research which is of direct interest to the Conservancy, but they also help to supplement the traditional teaching of zoology and botany in universities by encouraging the more comprehensive approach that is essential for the study of ecology. To meet the urgent need for an advanced training course in conservation, University College, London, introduced in 1960 a one-year Diploma Course in Conservation open to graduates in biology and related disciplines. This venture is supported by the Conservancy, which awards a number of studentships while the college provides the training facilities.

My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred in his speech to the need to go outside of the restricted sense of the Nature Conservancy's field of responsibility, and to talk more widely about the biological natural resources of our country. The Advisory Council on Scientific Policy, in the first Report which I asked them to prepare after I was appointed to my present position, have drawn attention to the lack of any clear, general responsibility for research in this broad field, and with my full approval they set up last year a committee, under Sir William Slater, the former Secretary of the Agricultural Research Council, to consider the implications of the establishment of a new research council.

This committee is reviewing the present organisation of research in fisheries, forestry, hydrology and a number of other subjects, for which many research organisations, including the Nature Conservancy, have part responsibility. The committee will report to me, through the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy, later this year. I cannot, of course, say what form the Committee's recommendations are likely to take, but I mention this matter as a sign of the growing recognition of the need to make the best use of our natural resources, which I see as some evidence that the creation of a post such as that which I now occupy has in fact led, over quite a wide field, to new inquiries being undertaken with a view to further activities when the results of the inquiries are known.

My Lords, I would add simply this: that I think, in common with the noble Lord, that the biological sciences are probably on the verge of great developments which may well transform them in the next 50 years, just as the physical sciences have been revolutionised in the past 50 years. No one can predict what form these new discoveries will take—in that sense, whatever may be true in other political fields, planning is not possible—but we must make sure that our organisation of scientific research is such as to encourage the developments to take place in this country on an adequate scale and with work of a sufficiently distinguished quality, and to allow their speedy growth and exploitation.

Before I sit down I think I should say a word or two, in view of the fact that several noble Lords have raised these points, both about the scientific advice given by the Nature Conservancy and also about liaison with other bodies in different countries and continents which may be engaged on the same work. The Charter of the Nature Conservancy specifically charges it with the provision of scientific advice on the conservation and control of our natural flora and fauna. This, of course, is vital, because, as noble Lords have pointed out, the nature reserves themselves cover such a small fraction of our land surface. The Conservancy's advice has in fact often been sought, and as its own knowledge and experience develops—and it is a body less than thirteen years old—it will be able to offer increasing help.

I see that my noble friend Lord Raglan, who spoke with moving pathos about the primrose which was uprooted by a delinquent, is no longer here; but one striking example has, in fact, been the advice given by the Conservancy a few years ago on the destructive effects of herbicides on the flora of the roadside verges which are not only particularly characteristic of the British countryside but also a significantly valuable source of types of weed which manage to escape the rye grass and clover planted by my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard. Discussions with the Ministry of Transport and local highway authorities led to a working agreement, and this has spared our roadside verges from the worst features of chemical destruction which have occurred in other countries.

Your Lordships have referred (and, if I may say so, have rightly referred) to the international aspects of the Conservancy's work. It was partly from that point of view that I was particularly glad when the noble Lord, Lord Howick of Glendale, felt himself able to accept the chairmanship in succession to the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb. He has, if I may say so, an extremely valuable contribution to make owing to his experience in Africa, and not least to his prowess in other countries as a mountaineer. Since 1957, the Conservancy has been giving advice on overseas conservation problems to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and since last year to the new Department of the Secretary for Technical Co-operation. I think this has been of advantage, not merely to the territories concerned and to the Colonial Office but also to the Conservancy, because this has given them wide-ranging international contacts, both formally, through representation on international bodies, and at scientific and technical level, through the participation of individual officers as active members of professional and other organisations.

This two-way flow of information and advice enables them to relate their work on subjects of international application—such as, for instance, the effects of toxic chemicals on wild life—to similar work going on in other countries. Furthermore, of course, this is especially a matter of great value when we are dealing, as we are dealing, in the case of toxic chemicals, with a few substances of great potency which may be very widely sprayed in a relatively short space of time. I do not propose to go further into that aspect of the matter to-day, because it is very largely within the responsibility of my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture.

My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, will be interested to know that the Conservancy is a member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, to which he referred, and that it provides members and officers to serve on the governing body and commissions of the International Union. These, I think, have been prominent in the planning of its work, including the current successful African Special Project, to which I think the Report refers and to which the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, referred in his speech. A liaison officer of the Union is now stationed at the Conservancy's Headquarters. I am told that this is proving both an economical and a helpful arrangement.

We believe that this international cooperation is bearing fruit in the constructive attitude of the emerging countries of Africa. For instance, at Arusha, to which certainly one noble Lord referred (I am not sure whether it was the noble Lord, Lord Methuen), Mr. Nyerere expounded an attitude which we welcome in the remarkable words of what I am told is now to be called the "Arusha Manifesto". This stated: The survival of our wild life is a matter of grave concern to all of us in Africa. These wild creatures amid the wild places they inhabit are not only important as a source of wonder and inspiration, but are an integral part of our natural resources and of our future livelihood and well being. In accepting the trusteeship of our wild life, we solemnly declare that we will do everything in our power to make sure that our children's grandchildren will be able to enjoy this rich and precious inheritance. The conservation of wild life and wild places calls for specialist knowledge, trained manpower, and money, and we look to other nations to cooperate in this important task—the success or failure of which not only affects the Continent of Africa but the rest of the world as well. My Lords, I think this really covers the field I had intended to deal with in the course of this debate, and which has been very well covered by noble Lords in all parts of the House who have contributed to a very enjoyable afternoon's discussion. The impression that I have been trying to create is that of a body entrusted with important work, carrying it on with enthusiasm and responsibility, and with a rapidly growing range of activities, no doubt subjected, like other bodies of enthusiasts, to some financial discipline, but still growing at a rate very much faster than most other public activities at the present time. I have also tried to relate it in some way to the general work of my Office and to the philosophy under which we are trying to set up a scientific organisation in this country. My Lords, I myself should like to add a word of thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for making this debate possible, and to say to all noble Lords who have taken part in it that I will certainly see that what they have said is taken due note of, and that any further action that seems right will be taken.

6.33 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to those of your Lordships who have taken part in this debate. When I first looked at the list, I was inclined to think that perhaps the more representative Peers from Scotland were more interested in nature conservancy than English Peers, but luckily some English Peers have joined in. As was explained, there is perhaps more room for nature conservancy, or for obtaining land, in Scotland. None the less, I think it has been a helpful debate, and I should like to make only one or two small points to the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. I am not quite sure what he said about a cut in the Estimates. I think he said that the cut was not a cut. I do not want to be clever or to argue this, but I would point out that the Nature Conservancy's own Report refers to the fact that despite the imposition of a serious cut in their Estimates, which necessitated considerable reduction in planned activity, the Conservancy", et cetera. I should hope that in this particular field these cuts are kept to the minimum, and in fact turn into the increases that the noble Viscount suggests they have become.


My Lords, I believe there is no difference between us here. I think it is sometimes misleading to refer to a cut, when what is meant is an increase smaller than that which was originally desired.


Well, my Lords, we all have troubles with financial advisers, as well as with Chancellors. I was a little disappointed that the noble Viscount did not say a little more about the sites of special scientific interest. I would only urge upon him again that there is strong feeling that there ought to be some more "teeth" so as to ensure that notification is made either to the Nature Conservancy, or to the local county trusts, before these sites are ploughed up or drained, or anything else which the clients of the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, may wish to achieve. This is a matter which is causing anxiety. Here, again, one is trying to achieve a balance between interests, but sometimes this could be avoided if there were some requirement at least to notify.

I was particularly interested to hear that the noble Viscount, like the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, was concerned, and so rightly, with the rôle that the Nature Conservancy have played in helping in overseas conservation, particularly in Africa. I hope the money will be available for it, and that in this matter the Department for Technical Co-operation, who, after all, will be concerned with scientific activities of one kind or another, may support his efforts to get extra money for this particular activity.

There is one other matter to which I want to refer, and that is the question of the use of the word "ecology ". The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, is not here, so I do not know whether there is much point in attempting to explain; but it seemed unfair that, in a world in which little ecology is done, this criticism should be made. There are few applied, and certainly very few fundamental, ecologists in this country. There is this interesting and remarkable group at Oxford under Sir Charles Elton. But the one body trying to do it is the Nature Conservancy, and to criticise them for not doing it seems to me unfair. I would have pointed out many other references in this Report to the research work which they are doing and which is mainly concerned with ecology. I might write to the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and tell him this, but the opening of the Nature Conservancy's own publication refers to this where they give an admirable account of conservation. They say that: Nature Conservancy is the name of the national body who have the task of conserving fauna … and flora … and the water, rocks and soil on which they live. These basic elements form environments for living things varying from place to place in more or less recognisably distinct patterns which we call 'habitats'. Studying how living things live together in their habitats is called 'ecology', which is Greek for 'home knowing'. I think the distinguished Director-General, Mr. Max Nicholson, was not always a scientist; I believe he had a degree in Greats, so he would be well aware of the definition. Certainly it is satisfactory that there has been such emphasis on ecology in this debate.

I should like to end by expressing my appreciation of the speech of the noble Viscount. He laboured on cheerfully in difficult conditions, and is, in fact, looking better, I think, than he did at the beginning of the debate. There was a moment when I thought he was a little at pains to justify his own existence and the existence of his Ministry. I can only assure him that, judging from his performance to-day and the rôle he is playing in this matter, there is very little need for him to seek to justify himself. I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.