Improving conservation lies at the heart of the National Trust’s work. 2015/16 was a year of successes and challenges. Much of the early part of the year was dominated by the fire at Clandon. The floods in the Lake District and other parts of the north of England and Wales presented further challenges but also strengthened our resolve and ability to work with partners to identify ways of mitigating the effects of flooding by innovative approaches to land management. The Trust’s strategy, Playing our part provides the perfect platform from which to pursue this work and all our conservation objectives.
Our first responsibility is looking after what we already own on behalf of the nation – conserving what makes them significant for our own and future generations to enjoy. We created our Conservation Performance Indicator (CPI) more than a decade ago to support this – identifying and ranking the conservation significances of each property, establishing measurable objectives for them, and assessing progress against those objectives each year.
The CPI’s greatest value is at a property and regional scale, where the level of detail it provides informs local decision-making. However, it also provides an important national service, telling us whether our overall conservation performance is improving or declining and enabling us to monitor trends in performance against a range of asset categories.
Each year we produce a CPI national report which summarises performance across the Trust.
The 2015 national report demonstrated that, overall, our score is ahead of target (continuing an upwards trend) and our lowest quartile performers showed a higher than average improvement. Gardens and parks showed the most consistent progress over the long term and our high-priority natural habitats have done particularly well. We are, however, starting to become concerned about our CPI score for some aspects of our buildings. We are already implementing plans to address backlog investment required in many of our thousands of vernacular buildings; we will also need to continue to invest in our mansions. We need to keep roofs and structures watertight – an ever greater challenge in the face of climate change and intense weather.
The 2015 CPI report assessed the impact of increasing visitor access as a result of 363-day opening. The general conclusion was that adverse impacts are not widespread. However, there were some cases of declining scores at some gardens and open-space properties. Our staff are alert to these challenges and the need to avoid or mitigate potentially damaging situations. We will need to develop this ability as our membership and visitor numbers continue to grow, and as climate change brings ever greater challenges.
In the 2014/15 Annual Report we described plans for a major land condition survey, one designed to assess the condition of our land across England, Wales and Northern Ireland that would help us understand the condition of our land as well as its potential. This analysis is now complete and provides us with the most comprehensive understanding we have ever had of our land. The survey shows that the majority of our properties are in reasonable condition but have room for improvement, especially with respect to the health of nature and soils of our tenanted farmland, with some properties in poor condition and some in very good condition. The survey will be used as the basis for plans to achieve our strategy objective of playing our part in restoring a healthy environment and addressing the widespread decline of nature in the UK.
Two conservation challenges during the year deserve special mention, Clandon Park in Surrey and the floods of the winter of 2015/16.
In April 2015 there was a major fire at Clandon Park in Surrey which resulted in very significant damage to the 1720s house. The response of staff and the emergency services was outstanding and we thank all involved. Because of everyone’s efforts, more of the house’s contents were saved than might have been expected. But the fire tore through the house leaving a trail of destruction. This presented a major challenge for the Trust but one we were determined to rise to and develop into an opportunity. We considered how this major restoration project could be used to develop the presentation of the house and to transform our offer to visitors.
After much consideration and consultation we developed a two-fold vision: to restore the significant and beautiful rooms on the ground floor of the house to their 1720s splendour and to create new, modern spaces in the floors above for exhibitions and events. This approach recognises Clandon’s past while creating an architectural and design legacy for the future. The realisation of this vision will take years to achieve but we now have the team and resources in place to deliver it.
The Surrey Fire and Rescue Service conducted a full investigation into the causes of the Clandon fire. The report concluded that the probable cause of the fire was an electrical distribution board, one it ‘could be assumed was delivered from the manufacturer with this fault’. During 2015 we conducted extensive reviews of our fire procedures to ensure they remain comprehensive and current.
Severe floods devastated parts of the north of England and Wales during the winter of 2015/16. As at Clandon our staff responded magnificently, doing all they could to support our tenants and local populations, many of whose lives and sometimes livelihoods were so badly affected.
In some parts of the Lake District huge pulses of rain caused widespread flooding and damage, unprecedented numbers of landslides blocking roads, and a huge single lake being created by the conjoining of Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite.
Extreme rainfall in Cumbria is occurring with greater frequency, and seems to be part of a pattern of more regular extreme weather events throughout the country. We all need to plan for this and consider what it means for our future management of water and our relationship with it. We consulted closely with communities affected by the floods, both those directly flooded and those who occupy and manage the land where the floodwater gathers before descending to lower ground. Partnerships were forged and strengthened with a shared determination to identify long-term solutions to mitigate the impacts of more extreme weather. Most agreed that we need integrated catchment solutions which will involve a mix of upper catchment management (such as tree planting) to slow the flow of water, the use of some farmland within the flood plain for flood relief, and the need for some downstream engineering works to protect towns and to make buildings as resilient to flooding as possible. We will continue to work with our partners to develop these solutions and others. We do so in the knowledge that nature does not respect boundaries and that we must work with others to develop joined-up, effective solutions.
In 2015/16 we achieved a cumulative 6% reduction in our in-house energy use compared with our 2009 baseline and against a target of a 20% reduction by 2020. Our renewable energy programme is on track to achieve our target of producing 50% of our in-house energy use in 2020 from our own renewable sources. Our use of heating oil, which carries a particular risk of environmental damage from oil spills, has reduced by 44% compared with 2009, principally as a result of our replacing oil with biomass heating at many of our mansion properties. We are also assessing our energy and other aspects of our environmental performance against external national accreditation. In Wales and Northern Ireland we have already achieved the IS014001 Environmental Management Systems (EMS) standard. In England we are phasing the roll-out of our EMS and using the Green Dragon environmental management standards to assess our progress.
We’ve also been looking at our water usage. We intend to use a water use baseline established in 2015/16 to measure future reductions. We have focused on reducing water leakages at our properties – at Brockhampton in Herefordshire, for example, fixing leaks has saved us over £10,000 worth of water per annum.
During 2015/16 we have taken action to address waste storage, treatment and disposal, and have achieved a continuing reduction in the business miles travelled by our staff by utilising teleconferencing and other IT-based ways of working.
The largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions from the Trust’s land arises from farming, especially relating to the carbon content of soils and to associated farming operations. Our plans to work with our tenants to improve the health of nature and our soils will have a positive effect on reducing these emissions.
We are on track with our
aim to produce 50% of the energy we use in 2020
from renewable sources