It may be thought that a body like the National Trust, with a well defined statutory purpose to preserve places of natural beauty or historic interest in perpetuity for the benefit of the nation, is not affected by changing public opinion or fears for the global environment. This is not the view of the Trust, for three reasons.
First, properties can be affected by adverse changes to the environment. For example, the Trust is concerned about the possible effect of rising sea levels on the East Anglian, north Devon and other vulnerable coastlines; of acid rain on historic buildings, lakes and trees; of severe storms like those of October 1987 and January 1990, which felled 250,000 and 80,000 trees respectively in Trust woods and gardens.
Second, the Trust is a body committed to conservation on such a wide scale - it is the second largest landowner in Britain - that it also has a clear duty to ensure that it follows good environmental practice in its own affairs. Thus it is currently carrying out an environmental audit which will guide its policies in future on such matters as the use of energy, water purification and fertilisers.
The third and most important reason is that by virtue of its ownership of an almost infinite variety of coasts, countryside, woods and waterways, gardens, historic houses and works of art, it can make a unique contribution to public and professional debate, and to environmental education.
The Trust has become increasingly aware, as funding becomes available, of the unrivalled educational resources of its properties. Teachers' packs have been prepared and lists of the properties most relevant to national curriculum courses in each region have been sent to schools.
In terms of property management the Trust is catering for an increasing number of well educated visitors who want to be involved. This has perhaps affected opening arrangements more than anything else. So the Trust, as a voluntary, charitable organisation receiving no direct government subsidies, is very dependent on the help that it receives from some 20,000 volunteers annually, working on a great variety of projects.
The Trust is also responding to increased threats to the environment. It is well placed to direct attention to and comment on these threats where they affect its properties. Ownership by the Trust is often the surest way of guaranteeing the preservation of beautiful places of national importance. The Trust is also uniquely empowered, under its Act of Parliament, to declare its properties inalienable, which means that they cannot be compulsorily acquired or used for any purpose against the Trust's wishes without specific parliamentary consent.
In spite of changing perceptions of the environment and the differences that this has made to the Trust's approach, it is the ability to manage property in a sustainable way which underpins the Trust's relevance to protection of the environment in the 1990s sense of the word just as much as it did in the 1890s in the Victorian sense of the word.