Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Petersham Meadows Annual Report 2012

- with highlights from National Trust Annual Reports

Membership & visitor numbers
The wet summer of 2007 impacted on many UK visitor attractions and caused a knock-on effect on domestic holiday booking the following year. The economic downturn in late 2008 saw a reversal of this trend with the new financial environment having a positive effect on visitor numbers. The weakness of the pound attracted more overseas visitors while domestic concerns gave rise to the ‘Staycation’. Visits to historic houses were further boosted by the ‘Downton Effect’, following the runaway success of Downton Abbey, and the Royal Wedding in 2011.

Between 2008/9 and 2011/12 National Trust membership rose 8% whereas English Heritage membership increased 67%. Visitor numbers also increased at National Trust properties seeing a 31% rise. This was in line with other visitor attractions like Chatsworth House also up 31% in the same period but well below places like Blenheim Palace up 53%.
Everything we do is underpinned by a sound financial footing and we met our financial targets’
National Trust 2011/12 Annual Report
Property operating costs up 38%. Defined benefit pension scheme liability up 109%
Source: National Trust Annual Reports 2008/9 – 2011/12

Staff numbers and costs 
Average number of regular employees up 7% with staff costs up 13%
The numbers of full-time/regular employees whose pay including redundancy and taxable benefits, which fell between the range £60,000 – £220,000, was up 71% with cost up 57%
Source: National Trust Annual Reports 2008/9 – 2011/12

Health & safety and operational risk management
Conservation, access and the visitor experience can be compromised by adopting an approach to health and safety that is too risk-averse. We have adopted a sensible, pragmatic and proportionate approach that balances risks and benefits. Our approach aims to avoid unnecessary restrictions on access and to ensure that we do not detract from people’s enjoyment and sense of freedom and adventure. In 2011, we are delighted to report a 13% reduction in the total number of accidents. However, we have noted an increase of 30% in the number of more serious accidents that needed to be reported to the enforcing authorities. This takes us back to levels equivalent to 2008 and 2009….
Source: National Trust Annual Report 2011/12

Petersham Meadows under National Trust Management
In their second season the National Trust significantly reduced both public access to our meadows and the area available for grazing.  This disfigured the view from Richmond Hill, increased the level of weeds and generated danger zones where object could lay undetected by herdsman or volunteers.

The temporary electric fence was in place for the whole season, the pregnant cows and calves were under their normal weight when they left in November and the herdsman struggled on reduced hours to complete the extra work created by ‘rotating the grazing’.

The damaged milking parlour roof remained exposed to the record breaking summer rain throughout the season. The second public meeting produced only one new outcome; the External Affairs Consultant for the National Trust London and the Southeast set-up a blog to keep locals up-to-date on plans for the Meadows. Since the public meeting no entries have been made on the blog.

The National Trust has conducted a grassland survey, a biodiversity survey, a buildings survey and an archaeological survey of Petersham Meadows. They also conducted an unproductive PR exercise to pacify local objections to their management. Thoughts of recording an oral history were likewise proposed by their out-of-touch local manager. For the first time in living memory large agricultural equipment was used on the Meadows during the school summer holidays.
Membership of the National Trust and visitor numbers are up due to external conditions. NT finances need to be brought under control and serious accidents are just as frequent even under the new Operational Risk Team. The ‘Think Local’ strategy has produced some contradictory outcomes. For more than a decade Studland United Nudists have defended Studland from the machinations of the National Trust. In contrast one of the National Trust highlights of 2011/12 is the world-record for skinny dipping staged at Rhossili beach. The Petersham herd are considered too dangerous by the local National Trust manager. Just 65 miles away people and cows with calves mix without restriction in Winchelsea.

The majority of Petersham residents and the local council are very unhappy with the management of our Meadows and the low priority given to the welfare of the herd. The National Trust seems very pleased with their performance and think local people just don’t recognise the value of their contribution. It’s unfortunate that the National Trust don’t recognise the valuable contribution made by the people of Richmond, Petersham and Ham in preserving the heritage of the area.