What are the most challenging environmental issues facing the National Trust?

Wessenden Valley, Marsden Moor, West Yorkshire

What do you think are the most challenging environmental issues facing the National Trust over the next ten years?

Sarah Green, Northumberland

Responding to and implementing the National Trust’s policies on climate change and the related decarbonisation of energy will continue to challenge the National Trust over the next ten years. Creating and implementing policy to manage changing weather including flash floods, implementing sustainable forms of energy production both within properties and for tenants, meeting the changing needs of visitors including demand for electric vehicle charging points and providing reasoned debate and leadership on controversial issues such as fracking are key issues for the National Trust as a landlord and lobbying organisation.

Other issues which will come to the fore in light of Brexit include countryside stewardship and local food production. Greening the urban spaces where people live, the challenges of fuel poverty and tackling air pollution are also key challenges with direct and immediate impact on communities

Steve Anderson, West Midlands

  • Climate change will have a disproportionate effect on the National Trust's most fragile habitats, especially coastal properties

  • Demographic changes are an environmental factor – later retirement reducing the National Trust's volunteer numbers and income

  • Pressure for housing risking the loss of valuable green field and greenbelt sites and contradicting the National Trust's ambition to look after ‘places where people live’

  • Probably the biggest challenge though is the uncertainty surrounding Brexit. I believe farmers are the custodians of the countryside, and that most environmental stewardship is delivered through farming. Farming has to be viable, and while Brexit offers many opportunities, I can also envisage a perfect storm of falling subsidies, a market flooded with cheap imported food, and the loss of the Eastern European ‘pickers and packers’ workforce. Personally, I would hate to see a countryside that can only grow chickens and solar power, with ruined landscapes and lost biodiversity

Virginia Llado-Buisan, Oxford

Mitigating climate change, to help restore natural habitats such as woodlands, grasslands, heathlands, and giving local species a better chance to adapt to environmental changes should stay at the top of the National Trust’s list of priorities, beyond the next ten years. Whilst the National Trust has achieved a lot in cutting energy consumption in recent years, e.g. by replacing oil with biomass and marine-sourced heat pumps in some properties, it needs to continue investing in renewable energies to make properties more sustainable and have a continuous, direct impact on the land.

I would advocate more collaboration with the government and other institutions, to promote and invest in research and innovation in this area. Fostering local, specialist knowledge also makes an enormous difference and should be further encouraged: the National Trust’s initiative to preserve the paperbark maple at the Vale of Glamorgan by germinating the very few seeds it produces is very impressive.

Raymond Williams, Buckinghamshire

Top Priority - avoid Indifference to environment issues setting low priorities to these key issues. We must continue to attract quality volunteers of all skills otherwise we will find our properties, lands and coastal regions decline at an alarming rate. The effects of acid rain and disease amongst our tree and plant life needs to be considered.

Climate change must be assessed in relation to maintaining quality standards of our properties. It is no good saying...It won't happen to us! We must be prepared.

Regular maintenance is a priority for all our properties. I recommend that each of our National Trust Areas complete an Environmental Dangers Assessment so that our future environmental strategy can be valid for many years to come. Is this an important issue? YES, it is.

I will also propose a new National Environment Audit for the National Trust, including - threats, solutions, costs, priority actions. 

Leigh McManus, Leicestershire

The National Trust:

  • Needs to examine and understand the effect that extreme weather events might have on the buildings, land and collections, for example flooding.
  • Understand what impact emerging pests and diseases will have on the land, plants, crops, animals and people.
  • To understand the cause and effect of coastal and river erosion.
  • To preserve EU subsidies and policies that may get lost due to Brexit that promote the correct environmental behaviour by farmers, for example, field margins.

Once we understand these issues we can then look for a response in line with our mission to care for our special places. That might be using existing knowledge or researching and developing new strategies or processes.

Guy Trehane, Dorset

Adapting to climate change should be the most challenging. Adapting to the political climate post Brexit however will have more immediate impact on the environment and the ability of the rural economy to maintain a sustainable and accessible countryside. The National Trust, which manages some of our most fragile landscapes, is in an ideal position to give leadership in the environmental debate and implementation of new support schemes.

Emma Mee, Cambridge

I believe global climate change is the most pressing challenge requiring attention today, but the issues affecting the National Trust won’t be compounded for a few years yet.

On a ten-year scale, aligning the interests of the National Trust and membership with population growth as well as the ongoing national pressure on house-building and infrastructure development is going to be critical.  My city, Cambridge, is expanding rapidly, I enjoy the ‘boom’, but appreciate more than ever the need for balance and green spaces, with natural ecosystems, for growth to be truly sustainable.

Brexit is also likely to put more pressure on farmers in the short-term to provide home-grown and cost-effective food – this again may be a great opportunity for the National Trust via the promotion of small-holders and thinking of new ways to use its land, but will also drive more aggressive industrial farming practices.

Michael Tavener, West Midlands

Continued climate change and the increased prevalence of extreme weather conditions, flooding for example, will mean that the National Trust has to continue to invest in suitable mitigations to safe guard its sites. The National Trust should also continue to minimise its carbon footprint with investment in sustainable energy sources which don’t adversely impact the environment. Work with tenants to identify and introduce alternative economic models to farming which have a longer-term view to the stewardship of the land on which they operate is also important.

Elizabeth Staples, Staffordshire

Some might say climate change but I think the increasing pressure from a growing population on our open spaces and the financial difficulty facing many local authorities may make the role of the National Trust even more important in the future and this may include sharing specialist knowledge with other bodies. The National Trust needs to ensure it works closely with other specialist organisations such as the RSPB so that the maximum effect can be obtained with a joined up approach rather than seeing ourselves as the only solution.

Inga Grimsey, Suffolk

As a major land and property owner with many tenant farmers, the National Trust has to understand and respond to the post Brexit world, as it will affect funding and regulations for farming, countryside, environment, recreation and tourism.  Polices and frameworks will need to be developed to ensure the Trust can deliver its core purpose after Brexit.

There are increasing development pressures on the countryside. In particular, the National Trust will need to respond to HMG’s planning and housing targets. The National Trust should use its enormous environmental knowledge and skills to influence the inevitable development and get the best possible outcomes to protect the environment.

There is the ongoing challenge of coastal erosion and how we manage retreat.

The National Trust needs to continue its work using alternative sources of energy. Longer term it needs to improve its planning for access, looking at alternatives to conventional cars.

Christopher Catling, Wales

The same as the issues facing us all: more extreme weather, probably wetter and stormier, and the need to replace fossil fuels with sustainable forms of energy. There are no easy solutions to any of these challenges, and the National Trust will have to work in collaboration with many different bodies to deliver, but the National Trust has already demonstrated that it is in the vanguard of thinking about climate change and is well aware of the issues.

Edel Trainor, Northern Ireland

I think that the most challenging environmental issues facing the National Trust over the next 10 years as a major landowner is the impact that Brexit will have on how land is managed.  The potential changes to subsidies and regulations relating to land management may have a major impact on the environment and in turn biodiversity. The National Trust should seek to influence how the government sets its standards in relation to land management going forward through its participation in the Greener UK coalition. 

The existing legislation derived from European Directives should be adopted and where necessary strengthened to protect the natural environment. The strategies outlined in the National Trust’s ‘Playing Our Part’ document, such as developing new economic models for land use, improving the condition of the land in its care and working with others to conserve and renew the nation’s most important landscapes should form part of that approach.

Bella Mezger, London

There are two keys things for me:

  • Climate change – the need to work more collaboratively with other groups to tackle the impact of climate change and global warming. The National Trust need to take responsibility for their own part in this (eg. Use of renewables; investment decisions) and their role in influencing public opinion.

Slightly leftfield and perhaps not technically an ‘environmental issue’ but absolutely linked and key for the future…Disengagement with our natural environment, particularly for urban youth. There’s an increasing disconnect with the environment and an understanding or experience of all the benefits that being outside brings.

This disengagement significantly impacts wellbeing, mental and physical health, and has knock on effects on society and publicly provided services such as healthcare. Where there is lack of understanding of the richness of Britain’s environment and its positive impact, there will be less push in the future, for its protection and conservation.

Joff Whitten, Suffolk

Land management, conservation, wildlife protection and water management are such a significant responsibility of the National Trust’s handlings, as it happens beautiful properties with some remarkable artefacts come with it! The environment should be on the tip of everyone’s tongues not just for ten years but for ever, and even those who don’t actively believe in manmade climate change can still witness the impact of recent unusual weather and the devastation it can cause to landscapes, habitats, property and also people’s livelihoods.

The National Trust has to ensure the 247,000 hectares of land under its care has good and feasible policy and practice in place to protect, conserve and manage the holdings but recognising that environmental impact is something everyone is responsible for. As a huge membership organisation there is an opportunity to develop individual led action based initiatives supporting local environmental change; if everyone participated it could make for massive change.

Caroline Kay, Wiltshire

In the short term, the potential uncertainty for the future of farming subsidies as a consequence of Brexit could have significant and unintended adverse environmental consequences, and I am pleased that the National Trust is engaging in the debate about the balance of support between acreage, production and stewardship.

In the medium term, the continuing challenge of climate change manifest in rising sea levels and warmer temperatures as these affect our coastline and native species, must be a high priority. There is also a significant challenge to the natural and historic environment if the pressure for new housing leads to an inappropriate relaxation of planning constraints. 

Duncan Mackay, Berkshire

There are several but my challenge is a socio-environmental one. The National Trust co-evolved from Hunter and Hill’s big idea that people need access to green spaces and simple natural beauty close to where they live. Octavia wrote, “Men, women and children want more than food, shelter and warmth. They want, if their lives are to be full and good, space near their homes for exercise, quiet, good air, and sight of grass, trees and flowers…”

She coined the term ‘Green Belt’ to describe this vision, but it has yet to be realised in the manner she imagined as a place for people and nature to share near their homes. Using the power of the National Trust brand to encourage land-giving philanthropy in the urban fringes of our towns and cities to secure such landscapes, rather than letting them fall into disrepair, would be my fulfilment of the National Trust’s original idea.

Grevel Lindop, Manchester

Coastal erosion and the other effects of climate change. Loss of habitat due to demand for new housing etc. Cutting off of agricultural subsidies from the EU, which may not be replaced by the UK government. Increased tourism owing to the recognition of new UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Caroline Jarrold, Norfolk

This will depend on the type of property it relates to but the trend of rising sea levels and more ferocious storms leading to sea storm surges and inland flooding are crucial items to plan for, not just the impact on land but also property drainage to prevent damage.