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How we're adapting to climate change

Two National Trust staff crouching down to inspect the harbour wall at Mullion Cove, Cornwall
Inspection of the harbour wall at Mullion Cove, Cornwall | © National Trust Images/John Miller

Climate change is the biggest threat to the coastline, countryside and historic buildings we care for. Our new report reveals how we’re tackling its causes and effects and identifying future hazards. From protecting and planting trees to working with coastal communities, helping people, heritage and nature adapt to a changing climate is at the heart of everything we do.

If urgent and large-scale action isn't taken to address climate change, we predict that more than 70 per cent of the places in our care will be at medium or high risk of climate-related hazards by 2060. We gained a better understanding of risks such as flooding and coastal erosion in 2021 with the launch of our Climate Change Hazard Map – a tool that continues to play a key role in how we plan our work to help places adapt to a changing climate. The new layers we've added to the map also allow regional teams to flag localised threats posed by climate change.

Building climate resilience

Our new report, A Climate for Change: Adaptation and the National Trust, sets out the actions we'll be taking in the next stage of our journey to tackle the climate and nature crises. It builds on over two decades of work to ensure coastline, countryside, rivers and historic buildings are ready for and resilient to the current and future consequences of climate change. We'll also use lessons from the last century of caring for these places of nature, beauty and history to help us navigate the next.

We don't have all the answers yet, but we know that by testing new adaptation approaches, and learning from past experience, we can improve our response to some of the biggest challenges we've ever faced.

Current and future challenges

In the short term, we face challenges caused by flooding, wildfires, drought and coastal erosion. In the long term, we must prepare for extreme weather, which will threaten wildlife habitats, and increase humidity, which will make it more difficult to care for priceless artworks and collections.

We'll also have to adapt to changes in visiting patterns. Hotter weather, for example, could mean that more visitors choose coastal places over inland historic estates at the peak of summer.

Earlier scientific predictions of more extreme weather conditions are now more frequently coming to pass. While we cannot fully mitigate this change, we can collectively help protect ourselves and the places we care for by taking steps to adapt.

A quote by Hilary McGradyNational Trust Director-General

Our approach

The challenges we face from climate change are as diverse as the landscapes and historic buildings we look after. Our teams across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are starting to tailor climate adaptation and mitigation measures to meet the urgent and specific needs of fragile stretches of coastline, complex heritage sites and nature habitats.

What is climate change adaptation?

Climate change adaptation is about changing the way we manage the places in our care to reduce the risks posed by climate change.

Planting crops and flowers that can survive high temperatures and drought is one example of climate change adaptation.

What is climate change mitigation?

Climate change mitigation refers to actions aimed at reducing the harmful impacts that human activity has on the global climate. These can include measures to reduce or absorb greenhouse gas emissions.

Some actions support both climate change adaptation and mitigation such as planting trees, which can help prevent flooding and store carbon.

Calling for progress

We're calling on the Government to introduce new legislation that recognises the importance of adapting buildings, coastlines and countryside to cope with the impacts of climate change. We want to see a Climate Resilience Act, with clear legal duties and targets for adaptation, and a new dedicated minister. This proposed legislation will ensure adaptation is on an equal footing with climate change mitigation and the pathway to net zero.

Adapting to change at the places we care for

Chirk Castle, Wrexham

Protecting trees from heavy wind

Built during the 13th century, Chirk Castle in Wrexham, North Wales, was one of several medieval fortresses along the border between England and Wales. Once a dominating symbol of power, today this 480-acre estate, known for its ancient trees, is vulnerable to the effects of climate change. 

The trees lining the walkways and drives are at risk of being uprooted and blown over by high winds and storms. Other extreme weather, such as a dry spring followed by heavy rain in summer, can cause the trees to go into shock and drop otherwise healthy branches. These trees aren't just a distinctive part of the estate's character, they also provide habitats for wildlife and shelter for visitors. At the meeting point of two rivers, this Site Of Special Scientific Interest is also home to rare invertebrates, bats, fungi and wild flowers.    

Chirk Castle has to close its doors to visitors for safety reasons if winds reach 45mph in winter and 40mph in summer. In November 2021, Storm Arwen uprooted a veteran beech tree that blocked access to the estate and forced it to close for a week. We're expecting more closures in the future and the team at Chirk Castle is taking several actions to mitigate the impact of severe weather events, including non-invasive tree surgery to help the trees become more wind resistant. 

A large tree stands in front of the green landscape, with the entrance gates and the gatehouse of Chirk Castle, Wrexham in the background
One of the ancient trees at Chirk Castle, Wrexham | © National Trust Images/Andrew Butler
Goldrill Beck from Dubhow, Cumbria

A Climate for Change: Adaptation and the National Trust

Read the report to find out more about how we're looking after places of nature, beauty and history in a changing climate.

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An executive summary of the report, A Climate for Change: Adaptation and the National Trust 

Read the executive summary of the A Climate for Change: Adaptation and the National Trust report to find out more about how we're looking after places of nature, beauty and history in a changing climate.


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