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Strategic framework for research

A sand artist instructs two volunteers while working on the beach at Rhossili and South Gower Coast
An artist and volunteers at work on the beach at Rhossili and South Gower Coast | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Learn more about why research is so important to the National Trust, what our strategic objectives are in this vital area, and how we will enact and deliver on those aims from 2022-2027.

Research at the National Trust

The National Trust exists to protect nature, beauty and history for everyone, for ever. We care for nature and conserve the nation’s treasures, making them accessible to everyone, and we welcome millions of people to our places each year.

To do this effectively requires an in-depth knowledge of the properties, landscapes and collections in our care, specialist expertise in how to look after them, and a rich understanding of the lives of the people who shaped them.

Research is needed to build this knowledge, expertise and understanding, to underpin the National Trust’s work and deliver public benefit.

Harnessing the potential of research will enhance our knowledge across a diverse range of topics, to inform vital conservation projects and shape the visitor experience. It will prepare us for the challenges that lie ahead and help us deliver our ambition to provide access to nature, beauty and history for future generations.

Our vision for research

To deliver internationally recognised research that provides the knowledge and evidence needed to protect and care for the nation’s heritage and to make it accessible to all.

Our strategic research areas

Over the next five years our programme of research will directly support the National Trust’s strategic ambitions. These are:

Climate action
We will be a net zero carbon organisation by 2030 and increasingly resilient and adaptable to climate change. Research will identify the best ways to help our places adapt to future climates, and to restore and create carbon-rich habitats.
Everyone welcome
We will better reflect the changing communities we serve. Research will shape how we help people to connect with nature and culture, increase the number and diversity of our visitors, and address unequal access to nature, beauty and history.
Looking after
We will care for places and give them a sustainable future. Research will help inform the decisions we take for conservation of the landscapes, buildings and objects in our care.
Land and nature
We will improve the state of nature in the UK. Research will help us understand what actions make the biggest difference to nature and create more joined-up landscapes for wildlife. It will drive the best ways to revive and restore our woodlands, wildflower meadows and waterways.
Curation and experiences
We will make sure our places keep evolving, attracting people and inspiring them. Research will uncover hidden histories and help people connect to our places and enjoy their stories, so we can celebrate the glorious diversity of our heritage, culture and natural environment.
Nordic walking in autumn along the wall at Hadrian's Wall and Housesteads Fort, Northumberland
Walkers in autumn at Hadrian's Walll | © National Trust Images/John Millar

Our priority research topics

Achieving our research vision

Our research framework is structured around three pillars:

1) Embedding research for impact

Ensuring research shapes the Trust’s delivery by providing a greater depth of knowledge to inform decisions, contribute to debate, and directly support activity on the ground… …so that research underpins our core purpose as a charity, helps us operate effectively and efficiently, and means we are equipped for future challenges.

2) Delivering research excellence

Building a dynamic and inclusive culture of high quality research and innovation… …so that we build our role as a UKRI Independent Research Organisation, building strong partnerships with universities and supporting the next generation of researchers and practitioners.

3) Designing research to inspire and engage

Reaching beyond the Trust’s boundaries by engaging people and partners with research… …so that we share our findings, involve more people in research and increase our public benefit.

Embedding research for impact

Ensuring research shapes the Trust’s delivery by providing a greater depth of knowledge to inform decisions, contribute to debate, and directly support activity on the ground.

To do this, we will:

Set the agenda for our research, so that it meets the Trust’s strategic needs and addresses real-world opportunities and challenges. This will also help us provide public benefit and shape our future strategy.

Develop an evidence-led culture with research co-designed between researchers and practitioners, and translation and knowledge exchange planned into all research.

Apply external research findings and expertise through a programme of knowledge synthesis and knowledge exchange.

Ensure our research outputs are highly visible and widely used with an online Evidence Centre and with support for rolling out findings across the Trust.

A Eurasian beaver swims towards the camera at Holnicote Estate, Somerset
A Eurasian beaver swimming | © National Trust Images / Nick Upton

Delivering research excellence

Building a dynamic and inclusive culture of high quality research and innovation.

To do this, we will:

Develop the research capability of our staff with targeted support, access to resources and a development programme.

Build a research culture where the value of research is clearly recognised and supported throughout the organisation.

Grow resources and capacity by winning external funding for research.

Extend the depth and range of our research partnerships based on research co-design, co-creation and co-delivery.

Develop our track record of successful research projects and share our outputs including peer reviewed publications.

Designing research to inspire and engage

Reaching beyond the Trust’s boundaries to share the knowledge that we generate and involve people in our research.

To do this, we will:

Share the new knowledge we generate to inspire and inform our audiences, demonstrating how research underpins the Trust’s work and building support for our cause.

Support citizen-led research that gives people opportunities to get involved with outcomes that benefit all parts of society.

Use our places for large-scale studies, as ‘real world’ laboratories, and to demonstrate what works through co-created partnerships.

Lead activities to coordinate a connected community across research and practice in support of our joint research needs.

Use research evidence in our policy and advocacy work to help shape government policy in support of our core purpose.

Tree planting on the Buscot and Coleshill Estate, Oxfordshire, funded by HSBC and the Green Recovery Challenge Fund
Tree planting on the Buscot and Coleshill Estate, Oxfordshire | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Our research journey

Our research journey is guided by three key considerations: our need for research, our role as a research partner, and our future as a research organisation.

1. Our need for research

The National Trust looks after over 250,000 hectares of land, 780 miles of coastline, 8 World Heritage sites, over a million artefacts, and more than 500 historic houses, castles, industrial monuments, parks and nature reserves across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

We are Europe’s largest conservation organisation, with nearly 6 million members and around 26 million visitors per year. Our unique role, enshrined in law, is to protect nature, beauty and history for everyone, for ever.

We need the knowledge, expertise and innovation generated by research to fulfil this role effectively and sustainably.

We need high quality research to:

• Ensure that our actions are driven by up-to-date understanding and evidence of what really works.

• Inform the decisions we take, from the right way to protect historic sites and priceless collections, to the best approach to help nature adapt and thrive in a changing climate.

• Reveal untold histories of the places in our care, giving visitors a richer experience and enhancing the unique heritage we all share.

2. Our role as a research partner

Our research journey We have been carrying out and hosting research for over 125 years and our people bring in-depth specialist knowledge and research expertise grounded in practical application.

As a research partner:

• We can offer expertise across nature, heritage and culture topics to provide a unique interdisciplinary perspective.

• The diversity of our places, our relationship with millions of members and volunteers, and our connections to business and policy decision makers, ensures that the research we carry out delivers real world impact.

The scale and diversity of the Trust and our responsibility to look after all the places in our care ‘for ever’ offers an unequalled research resource.

3. Our future as a research organisation

As a newly established Independent Research Organisation we have already developed a strong portfolio. Through our partnerships across the research sector we have developed a track record of successful funding awards, and a diverse set of PhD partnerships, knowledge exchange activities and fellowships.

Over the next five years we aim to:

• Build on our successes and strengthen our reputation as a generator, end-user and sharer of high quality, innovative research.

• Enhance our capability and capacity as a research organisation and develop our role as an excellent partner to collaborate with.

• Take a leading role in the research community by developing our unique position covering cultural and natural heritage.

• Inspire people by engaging them with research and sharing our findings. Research will inform the Trust’s conservation delivery and shape our future direction.

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