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How we're managing visitor numbers

A family walking through autumn parkland at Knightshayes
Family in the parkland at Knightshayes | © National Trust/Chris Lacey

We've been looking at how to balance conserving the places in our care and offering as many people as possible a chance to experience nature, beauty and history.

Achieving a balance

At the 2021 AGM, there was a discussion and resolution about overcrowding. It led to a conversation about how we maintain the right balance between taking care of historic places and making sure people can visit and enjoy them.

We know that some of our pay-for-entry places get busy at certain times. Equally, when we survey members and visitors they don't raise overcrowding as being a major issue for them. We’ve established systems for managing visitor numbers in these places, for example by using a booking or timed system, but we’re aware that not everyone likes to book to visit.

We also know that some of the coast and countryside places we care for have become extremely busy, although this is not as severe as it was during the peak of the pandemic.

Opening places to visitors in a way that respects conservation is a very important part of what we do. We need a different approach for pay-for-entry places, where to a large degree we can manage numbers of visitors, and our coast and countryside, where changes can be complex and often involve partners.

Two visitors explore displays inside Mompesson House, Wiltshire
Exploring inside Mompesson House, Wiltshire | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Our plan for pay-for-entry places

We have around 300 houses and gardens where we can control how many people visit at one time. Here's what we're doing at these places:

  • We take a systematic approach when we're calculating how many visitors a garden or house can take at any one time, and use established 'conservation for access' tools.
  • Where needed, we limit visitor volumes to manage the impact on fragile parts of the places we care for. This might mean restricting house visits through timed tickets, closing parts of gardens in winter or managing admissions to particular rooms of a house.
  • In some places, we can increase capacity by investing in facilities. For example, we’ve made considerable investments this year in the appropriate surfacing of paths to allow year-round use of our gardens and parks, as well as improving access for visitors with mobility needs.
  • We also use booking systems at some smaller places to help us to manage demand, as we've been doing for more than two decades. This year, we also tested booked car park spaces to manage the peak Easter weekend at several places.
  • And we’re investing significant resources in visitor amenities, giving priority to places where car parks are not fit for purpose or we have a shortage of toilets or seating in cafés.
People walking on the beach at sunset, East Head, West Sussex
People walking on the beach at sunset, East Head | © National Trust Images/John Miller

Our plan for coast and countryside places

By far the largest number of National Trust visitors come to outdoor places, where we cannot control visitor volumes. Here we need a different approach:

  • Historically, in particular places we've limited the size of car parks to restrict visitor numbers. This approach can have the unintended consequence of creating problems in surrounding communities as visitors simply park elsewhere, so it’s something we need to use carefully.
  • Partly as a result of the growth in visitor numbers to countryside places, we've conducted a thorough review and mapping exercise of more than 200 principal access points. This will form the basis of a 10-year programme of investment to ensure that the busiest outdoors places meet the standards we expect.
  • We're also actively working with partners in a number of National Parks to develop a shared response to growing visitor numbers. We're joining up our communications and visitor management planning, and working together to enable green travel.

What’s next?

Visitor volumes in 2022 haven't been at the peak levels reached in 2019 and 2020, so we have some time to respond. We want to maintain a dialogue with our members about how we use booking to manage demand in busier places. This may divide opinion, so we’ll test, listen and learn over the coming years.

We continue to expect growing visitor numbers in some places, especially in parkland and countryside areas near centres of population. The trend for outdoor recreation and refreshment is something that would have delighted one of our founders, Octavia Hill, and we want to respond to the challenges that it presents in a positive way.

Where we can, we’re looking to provide more and better green space near where people live, including our ambition to create 20 green corridors by 2030.

Lastly, changes in technology and our investment in new systems will allow us to communicate better with members and visitors about busy days and times. This means we can let members and supporters know when places are nearly full, so they can make alternative plans, if they wish.

View of Snowdonia with mountains in the background and a rocky landscape and wooden bridge in the mid ground

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