Skip to content
Press release

Climate, nature, conservation and cost of living top the agenda as Director-General outlines challenges and opportunities ahead of National Trust’s AGM

AGM pre release
AGM pre release | © National Trust images

Ahead of its Annual General Meeting (AGM) later today, the National Trust shares insight into a year of highs and lows and looks to its future, as the conservation charity navigates delivering its strategy amidst the challenging legacy of the pandemic and a difficult economic environment.

New heritage acquisitions, campaigns to bring nature into cities, and responding to the increasing impacts of climate change are amongst the milestones of 2022 for the National Trust and will be outlined by Director-General Hilary McGrady in her address to members at the AGM. With rising costs beginning to have an impact, the charity anticipates a mixed year ahead but is optimistic about the deep and enduring connection people have with nature, beauty and history.

From wildfires at popular beauty spots like Baggy Point and Studland Bay, to protecting historic collections from increasingly damp and humid conditions, this year has brought the climate crisis into focus like never before. Storm Arwen felled more than 50 veteran trees at Bodnant, demonstrating the threat to the natural environment. The Trust will continue its efforts to improve resilience to the effects of climate change by bolstering nature, including restoring peatlands, planting and establishing trees and creating new areas of wetland.

Work to power more Trust places by renewable energy will be prioritised, to afford the charity more energy security in the long term. The Trust has committed to reaching net zero by 2030 and reducing reliance on non-sustainable forms of energy will play a critical role in reaching this goal. With electricity costs across the Trust’s portfolio of more than 500 sites having more than doubled over the last couple of months, recent projects to reduce the charity’s reliance on fossil fuels include the installation of an air source heat pump at Charlecote West Lodge, a ground source heat pump at Kingston Lacy and the installation of solar panels on the roof of the café and visitor centre at Sizergh Castle. Energy reduction measures such as improving pipe lagging at Quarry Bank Mill, upgrading storage heaters to more modern and efficient models at Hughenden and installing LED lighting at Beningborough Hall are also critical, as the Trust looks to weather the storms of the energy crisis, the need to decarbonise, and rising costs.

The Trust is also introducing initiatives to tackle the impact that the cost of living crisis is having on visitors, and create more equal access to green and historic places. Castlefield Viaduct in Manchester and bringing thousands of new blossoming trees into city centres are creating new free-to-access spaces for nature and people in urban heartlands and this will continue in cities round the UK in 2023. This autumn, non-members and members could claim free passes for themselves or guests as part of a dedicated campaign to support people to visit National Trust places that normally charge for entry. Over the autumn half term holidays, 53 National Trust properties in England and Wales piloted a Kids Eat Free offer.

The results of these initiatives are revealed by recent visitor figures, which indicate that escaping into nature and connecting with history and heritage has been important for people this year. The National Trust’s pay for entry places saw their busiest October ever, with footfall exceeding 2.6 million visitors. Particularly popular were places with fantastic displays of autumn colour on the trees, such as Winkworth Arboretum, Felbrigg, Stowe, Stourhead and Croome.

Hilary McGrady, Director-General of the National Trust, said: “After a year of recovery, I'm proud of how much we have achieved over the last year - from the completion of works at Castle Drogo, England's last castle, to the award-winning restoration of Seaton Delaval. There is no doubt we are facing challenges from a number of directions: rising costs across the board, the intensifying climate crisis, and a wide gulf to bridge as we work to tack unequal access to nature, beauty and history in the UK. But it’s clear that the National Trust’s charitable purpose is as relevant now to people as it ever was. We have a very big part to play in continuing to support people through the challenging times ahead, as we have done over the last few difficult years.”

Facing forward, this year’s AGM will spotlight new acquisitions and stories in heritage. On display at the AGM will be an oil sketch by John Singer Sargent of Elsie Palmer, just acquired from her granddaughter. The work was undertaken in preparation for his famous portrait of the Lady in White. Members will have the chance to study the sketch up close before it returns to Ightham Mote, the English country house in Kent where Sargent painted Elsie Palmer. The AGM will also launch the first edition of the new Cultural Heritage Magazine, now available to download from the National Trust website. The quarterly publication will showcase the latest curatorial and conservation news, research projects and expertise and launches towards the end of a bumper year for history and heritage at the National Trust, during which the Trust opened new acquisition Crook Hall Gardens and the Children’s Country House at Sudbury.

Hilary McGrady continued: “With a membership of 5.7 million and many more non-member visitors, we are very mindful that people come to the National Trust for different reasons. Some want to learn about our country’s fascinating history, others want to escape into beautiful outdoor spaces. Many want both. It is up to us as a charity to find new ways of helping people to do just that and this means going beyond our boundaries, taking nature, beauty and history directly to people as well as supporting them to come to us. I’m proud of what we have achieved so far and of our ambitions for the future. I look forward to celebrating the wonderful world of the National Trust, from scones to Sargent, with our members at our AGM later today.