UK: The National Trust - custodians of a priceless past. (1 of 2)

UK: The National Trust - custodians of a priceless past. (1 of 2) - Angus Stirling, director general of the National Trust and a companion of the British Institute of Management, explains the commitment of his organisation.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Angus Stirling, director general of the National Trust and a companion of the British Institute of Management, explains the commitment of his organisation.

A remarkable feature of the past decade has been the way in which the environment has been moved to the top of the political agenda. Politicians espouse it; government departments ignore it at their peril. In a year of economic recession, the Government enacted an Environmental Protection Bill with major implications for public and private expenditure and produced a White Paper on the environment pointing the way to the allocation of further resources. In a year when all other parts of the charitable sector have been hit by the drop in disposable income, environmental charities have gone from strength to strength.

There is no doubt that the National Trust has been a beneficiary of public interest in the environment. This was especially apparent in 1990 when the Trust recruited its two millionth member in August, and received an overwhelming response to the Enterprise Neptune Appeal for the purchase of coastline in Wales, Cornwall, Northumberland and County Durham. It took from 1965 to 1973 to raise Neptune's first £2 million, but the last £2 million was raised in barely 12 months.

However, growing environmental awareness also poses challenges for conservation bodies. To begin with, our understanding of the environment has changed and with it the expectations of what bodies concerned with its protection can and should achieve. The Victorians understood "the environment" to mean the background to human activity, in particular industrial activity - a subject of concern to public health inspectors and philanthropists, but not society in general. It was one of those philanthropists, Octavia Hill, who, in order to "cast away from them (the children of East End slums) the misery around, to remove them from air poisoned and close, to give them God's free light", developed a corresponding interest in countryside protection and, in 1895, founded the National Trust.

This generation has, by contrast, made the environment a focus of attention and, with the Green movement, invested it with a value of its own separate from its value as a resource for industry, recreation and other human activities. Scientists, meanwhile, have shown that our activities affect not only the air we breathe but the air which regulates our climate and even climates on the other side of the world. Moreover, uncontrolled activities cannot be sustained without loss of plant and animal species, natural habitats, coast and hinterland, and the decay of buildings. Hence the need for a genuine commitment to sustainable development which is integrated with national policy on industry, energy, transport, trading and planning.

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