The National Trust was founded 125 years ago this month and the conservation charity is using the anniversary to unveil a series of initiatives to step up its battle against climate change.
The trust – which has more than 500 historic houses, castles, parks and gardens, as well as 250,000 hectares of countryside and 780 miles of coastline – aims to become carbon net zero by 2030. As part of this, it plans to plant 20 million trees over the next decade.
“Climate change is causing a crisis – from floods to fires, nature is in peril,” says Hilary McGrady, the director general of the National Trust. “Not only do we have an ambition to reach net zero, we have a clear plan of how we are going to get there in 10 years.
“Our plan involves building on our decision last year to disinvest from fossil-fuel companies, by reducing our own energy use. We will do this by continuing to switch to renewable energy sources, reducing emissions from our farmed and let estate, and managing our supply chain to tighter carbon targets.”
The National Trust has 145 Accredited museums – 8.3% of the total – making it the largest single owner of museums in the UK.
But one of the challenges it faces is that many of its 26.9 million visitors a year arrive by car – and the trust is not including the impact of its visitors in its carbon targets.
“We have started to look at ways that could encourage people to travel in a more sustainable way, be that through car sharing or working with organisations like Sustrans to find ways to get to our properties without having to drive,” says McGrady. “Our properties are in rural areas – that is the reality we are dealing with. Nonetheless, we are mindful of that and I think that will be phase two of where we are going.”
The trust plans to invest £2.2m a week in restoring its properties. This year, plans include two multimillion-pound projects in Suffolk: a scheme to repair the roof at Ickworth House and opening a viewing tower at Sutton Hoo, which is the final stage of a £4m investment.
McGrady is keen for non-members to benefit from the trust’s work, and she wants more people living in cities to be able to walk to areas where they can experience nature. To help achieve this, the trust aims to create a series of “green corridors”.
“I want people to be able to walk and make the connection from their window box or garden to their local park, and from park to farmland and then on out to open space beyond the city,” says McGrady, who cites an existing route from Sheffield city centre to the Peak District.
“We are mapping where such corridors might be possible and we will work with the many, many partners out there also keen to achieve the same sort of benefits for nature and people. By 2030, I hope to have established up to 20 of these corridors.”