Rallying cry from Europeâ€™s largest conservation charity
The National Trust has launched an ambitious plan ‘to nurse the natural environment back to health’ and, it says, reverse the alarming decline in wildlife – as it warned time was running out to save our countryside from further harm.
Europe’s biggest conservation charity says that climate change now poses the single biggest threat to the places it looks after, bringing new, damaging threats to a natural environment already under pressure, and a growing conservation challenge to its houses and gardens.
Health is undermined
‘The countryside had been damaged by decades of unsustainable land management, which has seen intensive farming and now climate change undermine the long-term health of the land,’ the trust says, adding that 60% of species have declined in the UK over the past 50 years, habitats have been destroyed and over-worked soils have been washed out to sea.
The trust says it will challenge itself to develop new, innovative ways of managing land on a large scale, which are good for farmers, the economy and the environment. It also pledged to work with partners to help look after some of the country’s most important landscapes, reconnecting habitats and bringing back their natural beauty.
The next decade will mark a new chapter in the trust’s history, in which, it says, it will join forces increasingly with other charities, government, business and local communities, ‘to improve the quality of the land and attract wildlife back to the fields, woods and river banks’.
The charity, which has more than 4.2 million members, announced it would spend more than ever on looking after its historic houses and collections, and would also explore ways to help local communities to look after the heritage that is important to them.
Its newly launched 10-year strategy ‘Playing our Part – What does the nation need from the National Trust in the 21 century?’ outlines four key priority areas. The first of these is ‘Looking after our places’, in which the trust pledges to spend around £1bn over the next 10 years on the conservation of its houses, gardens and countryside, including £300m on clearing the backlog of repairs. It plans also to cut its energy usage by 20% by 2020 and to source 50% of that from renewable sources on its land.
The National Trust’s second priority area is entitled ‘Healthy, beautiful natural environment’ and for this it pledges to develop new economic models of land use to share with others and champion the role of nature in our lives: ‘We will work with our tenant farmers to improve all our land to a good condition, and with other organisations to conserve and renew the nation’s most important landscapes.’
Another priority area is ‘Experiences of our places that move, teach and inspire’. Under this banner, the trust notes that as people’s tastes are changing their expectations continue to grow, and that it will work harder to give visitors ‘experiences that are emotionally rewarding, intellectually stimulating and inspire them to support our cause’. It will, it adds, ‘invest in major changes at our most visited houses to transform how we tell the story of why the place mattered in the past and why it matters today’.
The fourth key priority area is ‘Helping to look after the places people live’: Budget cuts mean that many public green spaces enjoyed by local communities are now under threat, the trust says, and it will, accordingly, explore what role it could play in helping safeguard their future.
‘We will also look at ways of supporting local heritage impacted by spending cuts and play a leadership role in the annual Heritage Open Days, the country’s most popular heritage event.’
Unsustainable land management
National Trust director general Helen Ghosh says that while the protection of its natural environment and historic places has been core to the work of the trust over the past 100 years, its role has never been just about looking after its own places: ‘The natural environment is in poor health, compromised by decades of unsustainable management and under pressure from climate change,’ she says. ‘Wildlife has declined, over-worked soils are washing out to sea; villages and towns are flooded. Millions of people love and cherish the great outdoors, it’s vital to our sense of well-being, our identity and our health. But beyond that nature also supports us in all kinds of other ways, from flood protection to carbon storage. We can’t keep taking it for granted.
‘Our strategy calls on the National Trust to respond to these threats and play its part in new ways: achieving a step change in how we look after our own countryside, and reaching out to partners and communities beyond our boundaries to meet the challenges we face at this moment in our history.’
This is a long-term commitment which, Ghosh adds, is for the benefit of generations to come: ‘We know that many of our changes will take 30 years or more’.
National Trust chair Tim Parker adds: ‘We can’t solve these issues on our own. Our strategy will see us working more collaboratively with a range of partners to explore new approaches and find new solutions. We will support where we can and lead where we should.’
In order to allow members to make the most of their membership, most properties will be moving to being open 364 days a year. Members and supporters will get more personalised information from the Trust about events and activities, and be able to get much better information on digital channels about the places and subjects that interest them.