Skip to content

Campaigning for nature, beauty and heritage

Written by
Image of Hilary McGrady
Hilary McGradyDirector-General, National Trust
Sunny view with blue sky, from a rocky peak out over open moor and fields, with water in the distance
View from Kinderlow End, Kinder Scout, Derbyshire | © National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Recent Government proposals could pose a threat to our charitable aims to protect green space, wildlife and heritage. In this blog, Hilary McGrady, Director-General, reflects on why we were set up as a charity and outlines why it's more important than ever that we stand up for historic and natural places.

How we work with governments

We've worked well with governments of every kind for 127 years. From our three founders who campaigned for access to green space and fresh air, to the establishment of the National Trust Act of Parliament in 1907, engaging in constructive discussion and debate with politicians is part and parcel of what we do.

We spoke out against urban sprawl in the 1920s, supported the foundation of National Parks, and advocated for the Town and Country Planning Act, which became law in 1947.

The Government's proposals could threaten nature, beauty and heritage

Along the way, there have been occasions when we feel that the things we were set up as a charity to care about are under threat. Now is one of those times. You may have seen reports in the press and on social media over the last fortnight about our response to recent Government proposals. These proposals include:

  • The potential scrapping of current protections for wildlife habitats and our most precious species, without clarity on how they’ll be replaced
  • Relaxing planning rules in ‘investment zones’ and for infrastructure projects, which could threaten local green space and heritage
  • A review of environmental farming subsidies that could reverse plans to reward farmers for restoring nature alongside producing sustainable food
  • A lifting on the ban on fracking.
View down a tarmac trail with green space either side, green hills rising above, and walkers and a cyclist in the distance
Visitors walking and cycling the 'green corridor' at Bathampton Meadows, Somerset | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Why we campaign for the things we care about

We're concerned that the cumulative cost of these proposals could have very harmful consequences for nature, heritage, beauty and communities – things we all care deeply about. We believe that ambitions for the economy can and must work in harmony with the natural environment: we can grow both together.

I want to be clear that this isn’t about politics, it’s about standing up for the things we were set up to care about. We would ask any Government that has said they will do away with critical protections to outline their plans and reassure us. And as the Charity Commission said this week, charities are entitled to 'campaign with vigour and energy', where it relates to their objectives.

You may remember that in 2011 we campaigned against changes to the planning system, changes that could have led to damaging and unchecked development, and we spoke out passionately when precious forests were in danger of being sold off.

A huge murmuration of starlings passes over a dusky sky, above the silhouettes of bare, wintry trees
A murmuration of starlings at Studland Bay, Dorset | © National Trust Images/John Bish

Our 'red lines' for the Government's growth plans

We know we don’t speak for all our members. The diversity of views and opinions within our membership is something that makes the Trust special – and we would never claim to represent the voices of everyone. But in recent years, when we’ve spoken to members and listened to their concerns, the protection of nature and the countryside is always high on the list. We know that many of you are worried about recent proposals and want clarity from the Government on its plans.

Last weekend, we set out a series of ‘red lines’ that we believe the Government cannot afford to cross if it is to stay true to its 25-year environment plan and its promise to the public to leave the environment in a better state than it found it.

We're committed to working together constructively

That 2018 plan was full of laudable commitments, and we want to work with Government to achieve it. In recent years we’ve helped inform legislation on the planning system and trialled environmental subsidy schemes, working with farmers and Government, to help make land more resilient to climate change.

We will continue to work constructively with all politicians and policy makers in the spirit that we were founded in 1895: to promote the preservation of historic places and nature, for everyone, for ever.

The white walled entrance and red and white striped tower of Souter Lighthouse lit by winter sun, with a glimpse of dark blue sea behind

Our news

Take a look at the latest news from across the National Trust.

You might also be interested in

View of rolling chalk downland from Ivinghoe Beacon in September at Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire

Our view on fracking 

Read our position on fracking, a mining process that uses the injection of high-pressure liquid to extract fossil fuels from shale rock.

Clear evidence how the erosion of the cliffs due to climate change threatens the archeological site of the hillfort at Dinas Dinlle, Gwynedd

How we're tackling climate change 

Climate change is the single biggest threat to the places we care for. Take a look at our environmental pledges as we adapt, reduce carbon emissions and address the damage already done.

A path winds through the bluebell wood in April on the estate at Godolphin House,

Nature and climate 

Reducing carbon emissions, planting trees and protecting wildlife habitats: just some of the things we’re doing to protect nature and the climate.

A conservator working on a doll's house

History and heritage 

Find out how your support helps us look after the past, from conserving historic buildings to revealing archaeological sites and supporting urban heritage projects.