Learning volunteers at Hatfield Forest who fear their roles will be axed write to Prince Charles
Volunteers at Hatfield Forest have called on the Prince of Wales to save their roles.
The National Trust, which manages the 1,000-acre medieval hunting ground between Great Hallingbury and Takeley, is facing a £200m black hole in its finances because of the coronavirus crisis.
The team of at least 20 who support the forest's learning officer say they will be axed as part of plans to scrap the charity's in-house education provision nationwide.
As well as tailored school visits, they believe holiday activities for families and adult education workshops will be lost.
Prince Charles is the trust's president and the volunteers told him: "While we recognise that savings need to be made, we are very concerned that the trust's response includes dispensing with its educational and learning offerings.
"We consider this response to be perverse, short-sighted and completely at odds with the trust's long-term strategy. It seems to betray a lack of understanding at the centre of the organisation of the importance of fostering understanding of why the trust's properties need to be preserved and cherished.
"The learning team at our property consisted of one member of staff, until recently working part-time, supported by about 20 volunteers.
"We offered a wide range of educational activities, mainly aimed at primary school children, but also including Key Stage 3 and 4 and A-level students, and covering studies of the many animals and plants inhabiting the property and their inter-relationships, as well as map-reading and compass skills.
"All were linked to the national curriculum but tailored to the specific environment, ecosystems and habitats making up the property. They were developed by the learning officer and the rest of the team largely by ourselves.
"Our activities were very popular with local schools as well as those from further afield. Many of our schools come from deprived areas and the education programme reached a very diverse multicultural mix of children. In 2019, nearly 5,000 children visited with their school classes."
They told the prince that the trust's plans are short-sighted: "Providing access to nature must go hand in hand with providing understanding of why nature is important and needs protection.
"By providing the next generation with a deeper understanding of the ecosystems within the forest, how they depend on each other and why they are special, we aim to instil a respect and love of wildlife and habitats in general, and of the forest in particular, that will last a lifetime."
Volunteer Mary Smyth told the Indie: "It's not saving money, it's cutting services. There is one paid learning officer but the volunteers work for free.
"There's a wealth of experience in teaching and engaging with children, young people and adults being thrown away at a time when the importance of the natural world and concern for the environment should be at the forefront of the trust's message.
"Children are the future members of the National Trust. Our school visits are often the only way many children get to experience the wonder of a beautiful natural place like Hatfield Forest."
She said the trust's contention that teachers could lead visits was misguided. Instead, expensive consultants would be brought in and "the inclusivity and diversity that we foster will be lost".
A spokeswoman for the trust said: "The National Trust expects to lose up to £200m this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and at the end of July the charity announced proposals that are expected to result in 1,200 job losses across the organisation.
"We have reviewed every aspect of the charity and we propose to make savings in almost every area of activity.
"We aren't making public the detail of numbers of job losses in specific work areas or places because at this stage these are proposals and are subject to consultation. The figures we are making public are organisation-wide and reflect the whole National Trust."