Climate challenge for the National Trust

As a bastion of the British establishment the National Trust and its vast estate might seem impervious to the unpredictable pressures of the modern world.

As a bastion of the British establishment the National Trust and its vast estate might seem impervious to the unpredictable pressures of the modern world.

But on a regional visit to Norfolk yesterday, trust director-general Fiona Reynolds said that the pernicious threat of global warming was already changing the face of its 300 historic buildings and gardens.

As she toured the imposing Tudor turrets and manicured gardens of Oxburgh Hall, in Oxborough, near Swaffham, the signs lay all around her.

The purple ageratum that had bloomed at the hall for decades died out in the blistering heat of August last year and has been replaced with a hardier variety, while the hall's small medieval guttering can no longer cope with the intensity of modern downpours.

Mrs Reynolds said it was impossible for the trust to "freeze" its estate in time and that its role today is to help manage this inevitable change as best it could.

"The challenge is meeting our promise to look after the premises forever for everyone and we really need the public support to be able to do that," she said.

Most Read

"But we also live in a changing world and climate change is a very important factor that poses a big problem for the whole trust. Last year some of the planting at the hall died off and you have small medieval guttering that cannot cope with the intense rainfall these days.

"Across the trust we're asking things like 'Will the lawns be able to last all summer?' and how can you keep things looking the same in the face of changing seasons, increased coastal erosion and flooding?

"People come year after year and expect to see things not changing. The challenge is saying to them that conservation is about the management of change and not freezing things as they are."

The trust's roots lie in the county. Blickling Hall was the first property to come to the trust in 1940, and today, as well as managing stately home estates Sheringham Park and Felbrigg Hall, it owns a 10,000-acre swathe of countryside, shingle banks, marshes and sand dunes across the north Norfolk coast.

With 200,000 members in the East of England Mrs Reynolds said its holdings in Norfolk embodied the diversity of the trust's national portfolio of grand homes and sweeping countryside.

"For me Norfolk's diversity really encapsulates what the trust is about, from country manor houses and gardens such as this, to huge areas of beautiful open countryside," she said.

The trust recently completed a £1m visitors' centre at Sheringham Park and is looking at ways of improving public access to Blickling Hall and its estate.

Norfolk has 659 medieval churches, more per square mile than anywhere in the world.

But despite the difficulty faced by communities and diocese in meeting the cost of preserving and keeping these historic treasures open, Mrs Reynolds said it was not the role of the trust to intervene.

"We offer help and support to the various diocese and church preservation groups but we respect the fact that there are already existing institutions and the church belongs to the local community," she said.

She said that visitor numbers across the country were on the increase and the trust had got off to a great start this year with strong numbers at Easter.