Local power in wind farm planning is step in the right direction

This week’s announcement by government that local people are to get a stronger voice over planning decisions on wind farms is an important step in the right direction.

We have long advocated the need for a robust planning system that values the opinions of local people and gives them a say on what type of developments they want and need for their own communities. And this move by government towards engaging and empowering communities in decisions around renewable technology is really important.

View along the Whitehaven coast, Cumbria towards wind turbines ©National Trust Images/Joe Cornish

View along the Whitehaven coast, Cumbria towards wind turbines ©National Trust Images/Joe Cornish

The National Trust believes in the need to grow cleaner, greener energy to tackle the damaging effects of fossil fuels on our environment and wellbeing. That is why we have pledged to generate 50 per cent of our energy from renewables, including biomass, solar and hydro technologies, by 2020 . It is also why it is important that this move does not signal a major backward step in the government’s commitment to expanding renewables. Fewer renewables to be replaced by any anticipated bonanza in fracked shale gas would be a serious blow to the Coalition’s low carbon credibility and do nothing to help us all tackle climate change.

We also believe there is a place for well-sited, well-designed wind technology as part of a mix of renewable energy schemes, but that this should not be at any cost.

So we welcome the communities and local government minister Eric Pickles’ statement this week, in which he says: “Meeting our energy goals should not be used to justify the wrong development in the wrong location.” And also his strong support for clear policies in local plans which will ensure that “impacts from wind farms developments, including cumulative landscape and visual impact, are addressed satisfactorily.”

As a leading conservation organisation, we have a duty to protect beautiful places for ever, for everyone and believe that great care needs to be taken in the siting of any renewable technology, wind included, to ensure that the special character of our most sensitive places and landscapes is not compromised.

Long overdue is a national debate and then clear plan – organised by regions – which aims to set out where large scale renewable technologies could be located. This would take so much of the understandable heat out of the current situation where scattergun and speculative approaches to, for example, wind farm development are creating incessant pressures on some local landscape and their communities. The best development proposals engage local people early and help them take part proactively in the what, where and how of any major interventions.

While this week’s announcement has prompted concerns that higher incentives from wind farm developers to communities might lead to distorted planning decisions – and it is important that the government ensures this does not happen – there is a need to recognise the benefits that can be gained from energy providers working with local people on developing models for sharing the dividends of local, community renewables.

We support the principle of local energy tariffs, where communities which host schemes can benefit from access to cleaner, less costly heat and power. Our new energy partner, Good Energy , is already a pioneer in this approach, and we are working with them in exploring how our new hydro schemes, for example at Hafod y Llan in Snowdonia , might embrace this concept of local, mutual advantage.

By Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprises Director

National Trust welcomes DEFRA’s plan for Catchment Based Approach in nation’s rivers

We welcome the announcement of the £1.6m funded Catchment Based Approach from DEFRA which recognises the need for us to work at a larger catchment scale and in partnership across government, conservation organisations and local communities. Managing our land and water carefully is vital not only to National Trust places which are dependent on the quality of the water environment for wildlife and people, but for wider landscapes and communities. The way that land and water is managed in one place can have a much wider impact elsewhere. Recognition of the need to work collaboratively to tackle the challenges of water pollution, flood risk and water availability for the benefit of all is a huge opportunity for freshwater conservation.

Stonethwaite Valley within Borrowdale

Stonethwaite Valley within Borrowdale

The National Trust has enshrined the principle of working at a catchment scale in ‘From Source to Sea’ which documents our approach in managing water as it flows through the catchment out to the coastal zone. With up to 43% of water in England and Wales draining through National Trust land we believe engaging at a larger scale is critical in delivering and influencing land and water management. We are already testing working at the catchment scale in places such as the Holnicote Estate where we are trialling practical land and water management measures to deliver positive outcomes from flood risk to habitat creation. We’re also involved in supporting community led catchment initiatives such as the Loweswater care programme where along with the West Cumbria Rivers Trust the National Trust is helping local community driven schemes to improve water quality. This is taking us in the right direction but the Catchment Based Approach could help to deliver on much wider scales to meet the ambition of River Basin Management Plans.

What is essential now in line with the Blueprint for Water response is that the detail surrounding the Catchment Based Approach be agreed and the delivery frameworks be put in place if this approach is to be fit for purpose and deliver truly collaborative partnership working. We would envisage the role of water companies as a critical part of this development.

Weekly Witter: The future of our heritage – under the microscope

Andrew Bush – Adviser on Paper Conservation for the National Trust finds that there is more than meets the eye down his microscope.

One of the favourite tools of my trade is a trusted digital microscope, not much bigger than a fat cigar but capable of up to 200 times magnification. It’s a very portable piece of kit, which is a good thing as I travel all over examining collections in any of the 200 or so historic properties on my patch. Although I have had it for a couple of years now, I am only just beginning to realise its wider potential use, of which more later.

A typical use for the microscope is to help me examine the condition of some of the Trust’s 1,400 portrait miniatures, many dating from the 18th century. The majority of these are painted in watercolours, with a very fine brush on wafer thin sheets of ivory. The ivory is so thin, and translucent, that it can be painted on the reverse to give subtle toning to the face as seen from the front. Sometimes a sheet of silver leaf was placed behind to give added luminosity.

As far as conservation and stability is concerned, the marriage of ivory and water based paints is not a happy one. It is the inability of the watercolour to keep a grip on the smooth surface of the ivory together with the shrinkage and expansion of this thin organic support that leads to flaking and splitting. This, along with keeping an eye out for mould growth, is the purpose of my visit…..At least I used to think that this was the purpose of my conservation assessments, things have changed.

Antoine Vestier (Avallon, Yonne 1740 – Paris 1824)  The Artist's Wife: Marie Ann Révérend, Madame Antoine Vestier.

Antoine Vestier (Avallon, Yonne 1740 – Paris 1824)
The Artist’s Wife: Marie Ann Révérend, Madame Antoine Vestier.

When I am carrying out a survey, I am usually with our collections in our showrooms and often the house will be open to visitors. If I am looking at something particularly delicate, or if distractions are to be avoided, I might be tucked away in a quiet corner, but increasingly I am working in front of the public, discussing what I am doing with anyone interested. It is this interaction with the visitors that I believe could potentially have just as much significance for the future well being of our collections, as any observations and recommendations for care or remedial treatment that I make in my reports. It is not only in raising awareness of the need for conservation, but showing that there are career opportunities in conservation. This is where my digital microscope has such a powerful role, it acts as a magnet to nearly every young visitor, and hopefully, who knows, for some of them it will be a way marker on a route to a career in conservation. Until I was at University I had absolutely no idea that a career as a conservator was possible, hopefully through the powers of microscopy others might cotton on faster than I did.

  • The Weekly Witter is a regular mouthpiece for our many specialists to talk about what’s on their minds at the moment.

Weekly Witter: Protecting the past, ensuring the future: NT green energy

Last week I visited Croft Castle to consider how we will swap from the existing oil heating for the castle and visitor facilities in the stable yard to a wood fuel system. This is exciting in its own right, as not only will we get the benefit of swapping to a renewable fuel (wood chip), which we can produce from our own estates, but it will also remove the risk of storing oil in this sensitive environment. But what made this visit particularly exciting was that it marked the start of a new journey for the Trust, where we are taking a planned approach to making a significant investment in renewable energy, to help us meet our energy policy commitment that, after a 20% reduction in total energy demand, 50% of the remaining heat and power will come from renewables.

“In looking after special places for ever, we believe strongly in the need to reduce our energy consumption, wean ourselves off fossil fuels and, where possible, generate our own renewable energy.”

Peter Nixon, Director of Conservation

Energy is, of course, essential to our operations, and we spend almost £6 million a year on electricity, oil and gas. By cutting our energy consumption and generating more of our heat and power from renewable sources we will have more to spend on conservation at our properties, and on countryside and wildlife. We will also be a more resilient and adaptable organisation, better placed to face the future whatever challenges come our way.

“We’ve installed over 150 renewable energy systems over the last few years”

Turbine opening event 025

The Archimedean screw on the River Wandle in London

We’ve installed over 150 renewable energy systems over the last few years – everything from small log boilers to district wood chip heating systems, and from photovoltaic panels in fields and on roofs to hydro power systems (the latest to be switched on is the only Archimedean screw on the River Wandle in London). Some of these have worked brilliantly – Wales’ PV outperformed its specified output by a considerable margin – and some less so – Nostell Priory is struggling to make its 300kw wood pellet boiler perform at anything like its best. But we will be using these lessons learnt to ensure future renewable installations deliver all the benefits we demand of them. And we are being demanding! The wide ranging benefits expected include, of course, reducing our dependency on fossil fuel and cutting our carbon emissions, but we also have criteria focussed on investment return, the impact on significance and setting, and the ability the project has to further our conservation performance – through enhanced woodland management for example.

We are using the initial phase of the programme to test out our delivery mechanisms before we hopefully embark on the full programme which will get us to our 2020 target.

So as the country worries about whether there is enough gas to keep us going over this cold snap, it feels exactly right that we should be looking to the resources on our estates to ensure that we can (carefully) keep the heat and lights on!

  • Lizzy Carlyle is Head of Environmental Practices at the National Trust, working to ensure properties, and the organisation as a whole, improve their environmental performance, be it in energy or water use, and waste production, minimise pollution risk, and make best use of their natural resources.
  • The Weekly Witter is a regular Monday mouthpiece for our many specialists to talk about what’s on their minds at the moment.
  • The installation of green energy systems like wind power can be controversial, to see the Trusts position on wind turbines please see here.