For Ever, For Everyone
The National Trust is the UK's premier conservation charity with a membership of over 3 million, giving it a greater amount of support than either Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth, both worldwide organisations. The Trust is responsible for 248,000 hectares of land across the UK, including moor land, heath, forests and farmland, as well as owning 600 miles of coastline, although most people still think of it as a protector of historical buildings. The Trust does own and manages some 200 historic buildings and gardens as well as 49 industrial mills and monuments, but it is the area and diversity of the land it owns which makes it stand out as an organisation.
The Trust was created in 1895 by three individuals, Sir Robert Hunter, a solicitor of the then Commons Preservation Society, Octavia Hill, a social reformer, and Hardwicke Rawnsley, a clergyman from the Lake District. Narrowly escaping the more cumbersome title of 'The Commons and Gardens Trust', it came into being on the 12th of January to 'promote the permanent preservation for the benefit of the Nation of lands and tenements (including buildings) of beauty or historic interest'. Although we are now a century beyond this original declaration, this is the core of the National Trust's mission statement, though these days they would probably tack For ever, for everyone on the end of it.
- The Trust has inalienable land rights.
This means that the land they own cannot be bought, mortgaged or altered without going through parliament. This means that land given to the trust for protection is far more secure than those given to other conservation groups who do not have this power.*
- The Trust is the greatest land owner in the British Isles after the crown.
- As an independent charity, the Trust is funded solely by grant and membership, not by the government.
Grants are given by various UK government run conservation bodies such as The Forestry Commission, English Nature and the Department for Environment,
Food & Rural Affairs DEFRA, but just because they receive this money does not mean the Trust is beholden to them.
- The Trust could not operate without the invaluable assistance of volunteers. Although the National Trust has over 4,000 permanent staff and employs a similar number of seasonal staff every year, it is the 38,000+ volunteers who help to manage properties, staff kiosks, recruit members and steward rooms that keep the Trust afloat.
- The UK National Trust operates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland but being a member means there are discounts at other 'National Trust' sites worldwide, such as those in Scotland, Japan, South Australia, Bermuda and the USA.
The National Trust has suffered from a rather stuffy image in recent years. The 'old school' National Trust twin set and pearls, tweed and monocle image is in the process of being shed, and the organisation trying to streamline its management and administration which had become sprawling and unwieldy. In today’s modern world where conservation interest is on the rise due to the huge demands put on land resources by developers, the Trust is beginning to speak out about issues such as the much disputed Aviation White Paper and biodiversity, taking a greater responsibility for the landscapes it protects. However, the majority of members are not interested or aware of the bigger conservation issues and so far the Trust hasn't been a political player, mainly acting in an advisory and curatory manner.
The Trust aims to protect and educate, and every county in Britain has properties which you can visit. Prices vary at different sites, members of the Trust getting free entry and car parking at all properties. The fees are small and the money is all put back into the protection of the buildings or landscapes visited. Without this money the Trust could not operate.
There is a well maintained and regularly updated website which has details of every property and its opening times as well as any events going on, job opportunities, holiday cottages and chances to volunteer.
See: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ for more details.
* The UK government has just passed a bill meaning that the compulsory purchase of inalienable land for 'infrastructure improvements' can go ahead. This means that no National Trust land is really safe from the threat of road improvements, airport expansion or the like. I wonder how long it will be before 'inalienable' becomes as ridiculous or transparent as 'green belt'?
As a member of staff for the National Trust, I have tried to write an unbiased account of the organisation. The Trust is not without its faults, but is a very important charity, dedicated to the preservation of landscapes that are fast being eaten up by our short sighted and economically motivated society.