Many of the rangers, who look after stunning stretches of landscape across England and Wales from the South Downs to the Lake District, live with their families on site, paying peppercorn rents for country cottages and houses which they could not otherwise afford.
They are often the public face of the Trust, and their housing is part of a job package reflecting the isolated locations and the unsocial hours many rangers work.
Now the Trust, which is the wealthiest conservation body in Britain, with an income last year of almost £436m, intends to let these properties at market rates.
It will be offering compensation to those affected – but there are fears it will not be adequate for rangers to afford the hiked rents on their homes or, in some cases, the surrounding area.
Some rangers are deeply upset at the proposals, but are fearful of speaking out. One told The Independent: “It’s just an awful situation for us but we’re scared to say anything in case we lose our jobs as well. They’ve gone back on our deal: they want to rent the houses for the market price and put us out. They’re pulling the rug from under us. They’re offering us very little. After all these years of service I’m going to be put out on the street.”
Today the Trust said it could not give a figure for how many of its 500-plus rangers would lose their homes, but recently, David Kennington, the National Trust’s general manager for the Surrey Hills, said that about 350 people could be affected nationally.
He said: “They’re not very happy. And I understand for the public it’s reassuring to have the presence of a ranger, but that’s no longer a reason to provide them with a house. I understand where the Trust is coming from. Organisations like the Forestry Commission, the RSPB, Natural England, they took housing off staff donkeys years ago. We could all see this coming from way out.”
A National Trust spokesman said today: “We’re reviewing how staff housing is allocated across the organisation to make our approach more consistent, fairer to other employees in similar roles and to ensure we are compliant with rules on tax.
“Living on-site is not always as desirable as it may seem, particularly with the demands of a modern working environment and the extra responsibility it entails. We expect to be able to announce the outcome of this process in February, with changes coming into effect by 2017.
“We recognise that this will be unsettling for affected staff, which is why we’re working with the Prospect trade union and talking to individuals about how the changes might affect them.
“We’ve agreed a financial support package with the union in readiness for any changes that may come from the review,” the spokesman said.
It is thought that some staff will be offered an increase in salary of up to £2,000 to enable them to pay market rents for their accommodation, but rangers fear that in parts of the country, notably the south-east, this will not cover the difference.
The Trust was unable last night to give figures for rangers’ salaries, average present rents for their accommodation, and average market rents. But Mr Kennington suggested the difference between the latter two might amount to a five-figure sum. “Staff without housing are effectively getting paid £10,000 to £12,000 less,” he said.
It is believed the Trust intends to use private security firms to keep watch over sites when rangers are not on duty after they have moved out of their houses and relocated away from the areas they work in.