The National Trust today (Monday, 23 March) launched an ambitious plan to nurse the natural environment back to health and reverse the alarming decline in wildlife – as it warned time was running out to save the countryside from further harm.
Europe’s biggest conservation charity said climate change now poses the single biggest threat to the places the Trust looks after, bringing new, damaging threats to a natural environment already under-pressure, and a growing conservation challenge to its houses and gardens.
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. 60% of species have declined in the UK over the last 50 years , habitats have been destroyed and over-worked soils have been washed out to sea.
The Trust said it would challenge itself to develop new, innovative ways of managing land on a large scale, which were good for farmers, good for the economy and good for 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, which will see it increasingly join forces 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 over 4.2m 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.
Launched today in central London, the Trust’s 10-year strategy ‘Playing our Part – What does the nation need from the National Trust in the 21 century?’ outlines four key priority areas:
Looking after our places
- We will spend around £1bn over the next ten years on the conservation of our houses, gardens and countryside, including £300m on clearing the backlog of repairs.
- We will continue to play our part in mitigating climate change: cutting our energy usage by 20% by 2020 and sourcing 50% of that from renewable sources on our land.
Healthy, beautiful natural environment
- 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.
- We will work with other organisations to conserve and renew the nation’s most important landscapes.
Experiences of our places that move, teach and inspire
- People’s tastes are changing and their expectations continue to grow. We will work harder to give our visitors experiences that are emotionally rewarding, intellectually stimulating and inspire them to support our cause.
- We will 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.
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 will 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.
Helen Ghosh, the Trust’s Director General, said: “The protection of our natural environment and historic places over the past 100 years has been core to the work of the Trust but it has never been just about looking after our own places.
“The natural environment is in poor health, compromised by decades of unsustainable management and under pressure from climate change. 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, for the benefit of generations to come: we know that many of our changes will take thirty years or more.”
Chairman Tim Parker added: “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.
“The National Trust has always responded to the challenges of the time. I believe our founders would be proud of our ambitions and the part we plan to play.”
So that members can 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.
1] State of Nature Report, RSPB and others (2013)