'Join me for a walk, George,' says Helen Ghosh

Our Director-General, Helen Ghosh © 978064/Chris Lacey

Our Director-General, Helen Ghosh

Latest update 31.10.2013 09:34

Our Director-General, Helen Ghosh, sets the record straight in this response to George Monbiot following the article in The Times on Thursday 24 October:

Last week The Times published a front page story headlined ‘We’re open to fracking, says National Trust boss’ which suggested our position on wind energy and fracking had changed. The use of selective quotes from this interview gave a false impression of where we stand on these controversial issues and the headline was misleading.

In the wake of this article George Monbiot responded with a blog which declared ‘your priorities seem odd’ and asked if I had changed National Trust policy on fracking and wind turbines without informing members. I haven’t. Your assumption from the Times article that I am ‘anti-wind and pro-fracking’ is mistaken.

As a journalist, you must know about selective quotes and misleading headlines. As an environmental journalist, you also know that the best practicable environmental option often depends not only on trading off complex variables, but also on the precise nature of the place.

I know that comparing and contrasting old and new incumbents of jobs like mine is a great journalistic sport, but you’ve been misled on this one.

The quote from Fiona Reynolds is taken from our 2010 energy document ‘Grow Your Own’. That’s still our policy. And I believe in it, professionally and personally.

I don’t need persuading about the importance of doing all we can to minimise and mitigate the impact of climate change. I was at Defra during the period when the current statutory framework (including the Climate Change Act and the CC Committee) was hatched there and the first UK Adaptation Plans commissioned. I am particularly proud to have appointed Bob (now Sir Bob) Watson, a great spokesman for the case for action, as Defra’s Chief Scientist.

Arriving at the Trust, I’ve seen plenty of evidence from our own properties of the impact climate change is having, particularly around our coasts. I was on Northey Island in Essex the other day, talking to the local team and Trust members about how we have to adapt to a rising sea level and changing shoreline. I’ve also realised the importance of showing what can be done to reduce carbon emissions, at a practical level. We’re trialling various renewable energy solutions on our land including a bit of wind but also hydro, heat pumps, solar, biomass… and are about to launch a new best practice network for others to learn from us. I’d be delighted to show you some of our renewable projects – why don’t you join me on a walk up the Watkins path on Snowdon and look at our hydro scheme there? We could also talk about rewilding.

Would we ever allow wind-farms on our land? The Trust believes in low carbon energy, and we believe wind has a place in the clean energy portfolio but the ‘kit’ needs to work with the landscape – and it’s our job to look after some very beautiful ones. As you say yourself ‘wind farms, like drilling rigs, intrude upon the view in places where there are few other signs of industrial activity.’ Indeed. Most people would agree that there is a right place and a wrong place, and we oppose them when we think they are in the wrong place for the landscape or buildings we have a duty to protect. We do have some small-scale wind on our land, and we don’t always oppose wind farms, particularly if they meet the agreed environmental guidelines. But it’s not for the Trust to be the national planning authority for exactly where every renewable development goes.

And would we allow fracking on our land? Given that it perpetuates dependence on fossil fuels and we still don’t know the environmental and visual impacts, the answer today would be ‘no’. We have a clear presumption against and our policy hasn't changed. Would we ever? It’s a hypothetical question, until we have answers to the issues that currently concern us.

Incidentally, thanks for your contribution to our Project Wild Thing film about the importance of reconnecting children to nature – perhaps we can talk about that on our walk too.