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National Trust research case studies

A view of the harbour cottages at Poole Harbour, Brownsea Island, with the cottages and rocky harbour on the left of the image, and the sea on the right.
Poole Harbour was one of the chosen sites for recent coastal mapping research | © National Trust Images/John Millar

Research takes place in many forms across the National Trust, through projects that we lead or host and through our partnerships. Discover more about the most recent case studies, conducted together with universities and academic researchers.

Research partnership with the University of Leicester

In 2019, we established a strategic partnership with the University of Leicester to support our Everyone Welcome commitment to inclusive and equitable transformation. Led by Professors Suzanne MacLeod and Richard Sandell, Co-Directors of the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries, it's supported by an Impact Acceleration Award from the Economic and Social Research Council.

The partnership’s activities have focused around three areas with far-reaching impact: new approaches to volunteer management, interpreting histories of slavery and colonialism and researching and revealing previously untold histories.

Under this partnership, we collaborated with Professor Anne Marie Greene and Dr Jenna Ward to develop and pilot a toolkit to support more effective volunteer-management relationships. The learnings from this are now embedded into our approach to volunteer management.

We also worked with Professor Corinne Fowler to develop new ways of addressing colonial legacies at properties. This resulted in the publication of our 2020 'Interim Report on the Connections between Colonialism and Properties now in the Care of the National Trust, Including Links with Historic Slavery.’ It has been edited by Dr Sally-Anne Huxtable (National Trust Head Curator), Professor Corinne Fowler of the University of Leicester, Dr Christo Kefalas (National Trust World Cultures Curator), Emma Slocombe (National Trust Textiles Curator) with contributions from other National Trust curators and researchers around the country. This contributed to us receiving the Museums + Heritage Special Recognition Award in 2022.

In addition, we worked with the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries to reveal the rich connections that our properties, sites, landscapes and collections have with previously unexplored and untold histories of disability. Everywhere and Nowhere, a film showcasing 10 previously untold stories and presented by artist Chris Samuel, was released in January 2023.

Mapping coastal change in the UK

In 2018, Dr Sally Brown of the University of Southhampton undertook a six-month placement with the National Trust. Working with the late Phil Dyke, our coast and marine specialist, they mapped coastal changes and analysed how coasts respond to sea-level rises and wider coastal change. The Natural Environment Research Council funds scientists at universities to spend time in organisations and businesses to enable them better use of and access to the latest science.

Working closely with Phil, Sally identified the Suffolk Coast and Poole Harbour as key sites for their project. Both areas are undergoing change, and are threatened by sea-level rise.

Working with Tony Flux, Coastal and Marine Advisor for the South West and other stakeholders in the area, she extensively mapped coastal processes and human interventions, using the Coastal and Estuarine Mapping System (CESM). By using CESM, Sally and Phil were able to gain a better understanding of coastal processes and apply their findings to decision making in managing the coast and estuary.

Using data to plan for the future

Apart from looking at coastal change locally, it’s also important for us to know how coasts could change nationally due to erosion, flooding or changes in shoreline management. Sally contributed some new data layers for our internal mapping (GIS) browser. This new data has already yielded important insights that can help us to make informed decisions about how we protect our coasts and plan for the future.

Researching ants at Longshaw

A research project with the University of York saw tiny radio receivers fitted to 1,000 northern hairy wood ants in an experiment to find out how they communicate and travel. The results of the project – which took place at the Longshaw Estate in Derbyshire, home to around 50 million worker ants – are being used to help manage the ancient woodland and land at Longshaw.

Red squirrels and leprosy at Brownsea Island

At Brownsea Island in Dorset, the red squirrels are suffering from a strain of leprosy and we’re working with the University of Edinburgh and Dorset Wildlife Trust to learn more about the disease, so we can help protect the UK’s population of red squirrels.

A close up of a red squirrel climbing a tree on Brownsea Island, Poole Harbour, Dorset
We're researching leprosy in red squirrels on Brownsea Island so we can protect the UK's population | © National Trust Images / Chris Lacey

The Jewish Country House research project

The Jewish Country Houses project is a four-year collaborative research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and led by the Universities of Oxford, Durham and Cardiff, as well as a number of partners including the National Trust.

Working with several key houses – including Waddesdon and Hughenden in Buckinghamshire, Nymans in West Sussex, Upton in Warwickshire, Mottisfont in Hampshire and Monks House in East Sussex – the project promotes the Jewish Country House as a distinctive, pan-European phenomenon worthy of study, with important implications for country house museums and the Jewish heritage industry.

Legacy of the project

This substantial research project came out of a previous Knowledge Exchange Fellowship with Professor Abigail Green at the University of Oxford, which helped us to reveal shared Jewish histories across our places, and to connect with the broader European Jewish context.

Protecting historic interiors from mould

PhD researcher Morena Ferreira is improving how interiors and collections in the places we care for are protected from damaging mould outbreaks.

Morena's PhD project will have important implications for how we look after the house interiors and collections we care for, and how we deal with the problem of mould.

Supervised by Dr Nigel Blades, Preventive Conservation Adviser, the project is funded by the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Science and Engineering for Arts, Heritage and Archaeology (SEAHA). Morena, who is based at University College London, is working closely with Nigel and his colleagues to develop a preventive measure focused on microclimates with high risk of mould development.

The problem with mould

Mould growth on interiors and collections is a significant conservation problem across the places we look after. It is estimated that mould is found growing on books in almost 40 per cent of the libraries we look after. It’s also damaging to objects such as textiles, furniture, and paintings and requires considerable effort and resource to remove. Current preventive approaches to controlling mould are only partially successful, hence the need for Morena’s project.

Working in partnership towards a solution

Morena’s research will unlock new preventive strategies for tackling this problem of mould. By sharing her findings with us, through informal updates and advice, publications, and conference presentations, her research is having a real impact on how we look after the interiors and collections in our care.

A close-up of the Chinese wallpaper in the Chinese dressing room at Saltram depicting human figures, with an early 18th-century Arita porcelain figure visible on top of the mantel.
We're sharing and researching the influence of Asian art in the places we care for | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Researching our Chinese wallpaper collection

We partner with colleagues across the environmental and heritage sectors. In 2016 our staff organised an international conference on Chinese wallpapers in historic houses with expert colleagues from the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal Pavilion, supported by Coutts & Co.

The Trust looks after the largest collection of Chinese wallpapers still on view in their original location and for the last few years we’ve been carrying out research to understand the influence of Asian art in the properties we care for.

Researching with radar at Fountains Abbey

At Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire, we’ve been working on a project with experts from the University of Bradford, Geoscan Research, and Mala Geoscience to research the monastic ruins, the largest in the country. This major project used geophysical techniques and ground-penetrating radar to uncover new details about the life of the community who lived there and their burial rituals.

Volunteer examining a book as part of conservation work in the library at Greyfriars' House and Garden, Worcestershire

Research at the National Trust

We're an Independent Research Organisation recognised by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Our research takes place in many forms – from the PhDs we sponsor and practical testing of new conservation techniques to the hundreds of research projects we collaborate in or host at places in our care each year.

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PhD student Cecilia Bembibre pictured doing some conservation work on a book which is beneath a glass dome at Knole in Kent, as part of the 'Secrets of the National Trust' television show with Alan Titchmarsh.

Why does the National Trust do research? 

Learn how research helps us understand changes in the world around us, learn more about the places in the Trust cares for and find practical solutions to conservation problems.

Staff working at the Textile Conservation Studio, Norfolk

Work with us: guidance for academics 

Learn more about our research – from the PhDs we sponsor and practical testing of conservation techniques to the hundreds of projects we collaborate in or host each year.

A collage image containing three artworks: a painting of Teresia, Lady Shirley by Van Dyke at Petworth House; an oil painting of a young coachman at Erddig; and a photograph of the Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanagar at Polesden Lacey.

Addressing our histories of colonialism and historic slavery 

Read our report on colonialism and historic slavery in the places and collections we care for and discover how we’re changing the way we approach these issues.