National Trust members say farewell to Dame Fiona

Dame Fiona Reynolds stepped down as Director-General of the National Trust this Saturday (10 November) as 600 members gathered in Swindon for the charity’s AGM.

She leaves the National Trust after 11 years in charge, during which time she has increased membership from 2.7 to 4 million, guided the charity to financial solvency and reconnected the organisation with its original founding purpose.

Fiona is leaving to become Master of Emmanuel College at the University of Cambridge in the autumn of 2013, where she will be the first woman to be elected Master in the College’s history.

Fiona said: “I have loved every minute leading the National Trust and working with our passionate and dedicated staff, volunteers and supporters. 

“I am incredibly proud of all that we have achieved in the last 11 years. 

“There is no organisation like it and I will miss it terribly.  But it is time to allow someone else an opportunity to make their mark.”

Simon Jenkins, National Trust Chairman, said: “Fiona has presided over a triumphant era in the history of the National Trust.

“Her strategic vision and personal leadership have made it one of Britain’s most popular institutions.

“She guided us with panache, first to financial solvency and then to four million members. We shall miss her, and wish her every success in the future.”


 Notes to Editors:

Biopic of Dame Fiona Reynolds DBE, Director-General of the National Trust (2001-2012)

Fiona Reynolds was born on 29 March 1958 in Alston, Cumbria. She attended Rugby High School for Girls (1969-76) before going to Newnham College, Cambridge University, where she studied Geography and Land Economy (1976-79) before completing an MPhil in Land Economy, also at Cambridge (1980-81).

Before joining the Trust as Director-General, Fiona was previously Director of the Women’s Unit in the Cabinet Office (1998-2000), Director of the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) (1992-98), Assistant Director (Policy) at CPRE (1987-92), and Secretary to the Council for National Parks (1980-1987).

She married Robert Merrill – who runs the local Riding for the Disabled group – in 1981. They have three daughters and live near Cirencester in Gloucestershire. Her favourite ways to relax are walking, cycling, reading and listening to classical music.

Fiona was awarded the CBE for “services to the environment and conservation” in 1998 and was appointed DBE in 2008 for “services to heritage and conservation”.

National Trust

Fiona was involved with the Trust for many years prior to becoming Director-General, as a member of the Trust’s Council, the Thames and Chilterns regional committee, and chairing the local committee for Sutton House in Hackney.

She became Director-General of the National Trust in January 2001. Since then, she has overseen a period of transformational change at the National Trust, reconnecting the organisation with its original founding purpose and infusing it with warmth and liveliness. 

From her earliest days at the Trust, Fiona pioneered an ‘arms open’ approach to conservation, bringing expert work out from behind closed doors to take place in front of visitors, now an integral part of the Trust’s programme to bring places to life. 

She has overseen a restructure of the governance of the charity, from a 52-member Council to a 12-member Board of Trustees, as well as two major internal restructures which have strengthened and localised the organisation. This included bringing all of the Trust’s central office teams under one roof – the purpose-built and award-winning Heelis in Swindon – which remains one of Europe’s most environmentally-friendly office buildings.

She also led a series of financial reforms that took the Trust from a vulnerable financial position to one of security to meet the recession in 2008.  The Trust now spends over £100 million a year on conservation work.

Over this period:

  • Membership has grown from 2.7 million in 2001 to more than four million in 2011.
  • Visitor numbers to the Trust’s 300 properties reached 19 million from 10 million a decade ago. 
  • Volunteer numbers have also doubled, with more than 67,000 people giving their time to special places last year. 

As a geographer and walker with a passionate interest in landscape, she has systematically added to the 617,000 acres of countryside under the Trust’s care. Most recently, this included the acquisition of the 617-acre Llyndy Isaf estate near Snowdon after a public appeal raised £1 million in seven months from 20,000 donors.

Property acquisitions over the last 11 years have included the vast Victorian Gothic Tyntesfield and its estate near Bristol, Vanbrugh’s Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland, the ‘back-to-back’ terraced houses in Birmingham, John Lennon’s boyhood home in Liverpool and the quirky home of Kenyan-born poet Khadambi Asalache in Wandsworth. 

These acquisitions have been part of a concerted focus on social and community relevance for the Trust, recently underlined by the long-term lease taken out on Tredegar House in South East Wales.

During her time as Director-General, Fiona has championed the importance of access to the outdoors and nature for people’s wellbeing and promoted local and seasonal food with a drive to create 1,000 new allotments on National Trust land. 

In 2012 she launched the Trust’s Natural Childhood report and ’50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾’ campaign, which aim to reconnect children with nature and the outdoors. This echoes the vision of the Trust’s founders, in particular the Victorian social campaigner Octavia Hill, the centenary of whose death is marked this year.

While maintaining the Trust’s strict party-political neutrality, Fiona has also championed its conservation principles, most recently leading the charge against proposed changes to the planning framework which, she warned, would bias planning towards excessive building in the countryside. 

Her decision to step down as National Trust Director-General to become Master of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge, was announced on Tuesday 6 March 2012.

Next steps

Fiona will become the first female Master in EmmanuelCollege’s history in the autumn of 2013, in succession to Lord Wilson of Dinton.

She became a Non-executive Director of the BBC on 1 January 2012, and was confirmed as the next Senior Independent Director on the broadcaster’s Executive Board on 18 September 2012.  She was also appointed a Non-executive Director on the Board of Wessex Water on 3 August 2012, and will Chair the company’s sustainability panel.

Fiona plans to use the interval between leaving and moving to Cambridge in September 2013 to write a book about her years at the Trust.

Other information

Appearing on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs in April 2002, Fiona’s choice of music was:

  • the Mingulay Boat Song, performed by Robin Hall and Jimmie MacGregor;
  • the Agnus Dei from Fauré’s Requiem;
  • Mozart’s Divertimento in D Major;
  • Mendelssohn’s Octet;
  • Robert Speaight reading from Wordsworth’s Lines composed above Tintern Abbey;
  • The Salutation from Gerald Finzi’s Dies Natalis;
  • Maria Tipo playing the Adagio from Bach/Busoni’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major; and
  • Oh! Hang at open doors the net from Britten’s opera Peter Grimes.

 If she could take just one record it would be the Finzi; her book was The Making of the English Landscape by W G Hoskins and her luxury a full set of Ordnance Survey maps of the British Isles.

The National Trust looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 720 miles of coastline and hundreds of historic places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For more information and ideas for great value family days out go to:


One thought on “National Trust members say farewell to Dame Fiona

  1. Pingback: Helen Ghosh takes over as National Trust Director-General | National Trust Press Office

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