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Feeling the highs and lows of conservation campaigning

Features | Published:

National Trust for Jersey chief executive Charles Alluto tells David Edbrooke why there is always more work for the 82-year-old charity to do it its mission to protect the Island's natural beauty, wildlife and historic places

During the past week, Charles Alluto has experienced a range of emotions as varied as the flora and fauna beside St Ouen’s Bay.

The National Trust for Jersey chief executive admits to having felt ‘deflated’ on Monday after the charity’s coastline campaign suffered a setback with the news that its £260,020 bid to secure the strip of coastal duneland between Le Braye Café and El Tico had failed.

The trust had made what it considered a generous offer for the land in an effort to safeguard its natural beauty and wildlife for future generations of Islanders. However, when a member of Maillard’s Estates – which handled the sale of the area for the Simon family – rang Mr Alluto’s office at The Elms last Monday morning, the voice at the other end delivered dispiriting news.

‘We were optimistic that the sellers, the Simon family might see this as a potential long-term partnership with the trust so it was really disappointing,’ admits Mr Alluto.

So sore did the National Trust for Jersey’s chief executive feel about the charity’s failed bid, that he says he could not shake off the notion that he had let Islanders down.

The land had been valued at between £200,000 and £250,000 and more than 70 Islanders helped the trust raise the sum of £260,000 over a period of ten days.

‘With Plémont – the trust’s successful campaign to return the site of the old Pontin’s holiday camp to nature – we had actively sought people out to help us with funding, yet with the situation at St Ouen people were approaching us to see how they could offer their support.

‘So you feel to some extent you’ve let down the people who have been so enthusiastically supporting you. It’s a community effort which builds up over a campaign and it was like a balloon – suddenly it deflated when we got the bad news.’

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Yet by the end of the week, the good weather Jersey has been enjoying was reflected in Mr Alluto’s sunnier disposition – for Environment Minister John Young had heeded his request to instruct the Planning Department to begin the process of designating the land a Site of Special Interest.

‘With campaigning you get highs and lows. This is an extra layer of protection for the land so I was delighted.

‘It’s not as good an outcome as the trust taking ownership of the land, but it does [underline] its importance as an area of wildlife value. There’s still a lot to do though, including ensuring better management of the bay and that’s where we need to have a more active partnership [with the States].’

The 51-year-old remains hopeful that the trust’s offer in another tender process for the sale of States-owned farming land beside Pine Walk, overlooking St Catherine’s Bay, will be successful. Bids, including from the trust, have been tabled for Infrastructure Minister Kevin Lewis to consider.

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‘We could find out [whether the trust’s bid has been accepted] at any moment,’ he says, his tone betraying nervous excitement.

As part of its coastline campaign, the trust – which cares for more than 1,500 vergées of land and almost 12 miles of public footpath – has made a pledge to try to extend the amount of coastline it manages by 1,000 vergées over the next 20 years.

‘We’ve made a significant pledge to try to protect more coastline. It’s a hugely ambitious target, but I don’t see it as unachievable given the support that is out there. But to make it happen requires a team effort – not just the trust but landowners, benefactors, supporters – and the States.

‘The Island is under increasing pressure because of our growing population and the States needs to think about how it’s going to manage that.’

Mr Alluto lives in the parish of St John with his partner Sue – an interior designer – and Archie, their Bouvier des Flandres dog. While Flanders’ fields were famously fertile enough for poppies to grow despite the bombs, Mr Alluto doubts whether anything will be growing beside the Five Mile Road in future if car parking spaces encroach any further into the grass land.

‘With our increasing population there are more people who want to go down to the bay, so the pressure [for car parking] has increased,’ says Mr Alluto, who admits he is driven to distraction by the proliferation of car parking space there.

‘We as a community have to ask, do we want a thriving, vibrant living coastal strip or do we want a stony car park?

‘If you look at the areas where there are no cars, it’s incredibly beautiful. Then you look at the areas where cars have been allowed to park and it [the natural environment] has been destroyed – it’s sterile, it’s dead and all the plant life has gone.’

Recently the Jersey Evening Post teamed up with five local companies to clean up six beaches and their surrounding areas – and Mr Alluto is quick to praise the initiative as ‘a marvellous undertaking and very worthwhile’.

However, he believes the Island as a whole needs to set itself some core environmental objectives – ‘whether that be a plastic-free Island or whether we aim to go all-electric in terms of new cars in the next five years. We lack ambition in terms of our environmental goals.’

He cites Germany’s plan to implement a complete ban on internal combustion engines by 2030, and Australia’s ban on single-use plastic bags as examples that Jersey should try to follow.

‘Australia is a huge country and if they and other countries like Germany can do this, then we as a small Island could achieve these targets too – they ought to be much easier for us to achieve than them. That’s because we can change the law and [in the case of electric cars] put the infrastructure in place relatively easily, if the will is there to do it.’

Mr Alluto, who is Jersey born and bred, has an English Literature degree from Durham University, a masters in property valuation and law from City University London, and a diploma in historic building conservation. He put the latter to good use helping to renovate some Georgian houses in Spitalfields in east London, before working for the UK Heritage Lottery Fund.

He has been head of the National Trust for Jersey since 1999 – first in the guise of secretary and now as chief executive – and his appreciation for heritage projects remains undimmed.

He is particularly proud of the work that went in to refurbish the Foot buildings – four historic houses behind the new Premier Inn at Charing Cross that date back to 1800.

The Co-op gave three of the buildings to the trust for a nominal sum in 2016 and the charity raised £1.5 million to undertake their restoration. They are now being rented out to generate an income so the trust can undertake further restoration works.

‘The Foot buildings have been a success for the trust – they are a great example of heritage regeneration for the town. We wholeheartedly hope they will serve as a template for future developments as they demonstrate that you can work with old buildings and deliver a good result.

‘To see a thriving business on the ground floor of the Foot buildings – and to know that shortly we will see families living above – is a very positive outcome.

‘Even if a building looks pretty grim on the outside it can be brought back to life. Our historic buildings do have a lot to give, but we have to be willing to invest in them.’

To this end, he would like to see the States revive the historic buildings grant programme. The scheme, which allowed residents with a listed property to apply for aid when carrying out renovations, was suspended in 2011.

‘The States need to bring the historic building repair grant scheme back into play so that those people who are privileged enough to have a historic building are helped with some of the additional burden that comes with owning those buildings – whether that be additional planning constraints or additional repair costs.’

Although he insists ‘there is much work to do’ for Jersey to safeguard its natural environment, he continues to ‘relish the variety and challenge of the work’ of the trust, which is a wholly autonomous organisation and distinct from the UK charity.

‘I love the commitment of the team here at The Elms to the work we do.

‘And when people demonstrate faith in what the trust is about – whether that ends up being a bequest, a donation or a nice letter – it’s pretty special and incredibly rewarding.’

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