Being a conservation investor – 2, The National Trust

My latest book, Reflections, proposes that we all consider ourselves as conservation investors. Here, I wonder whether I should invest my money for conservation in The National Trust?

Background: I have occasionally been a member of The National Trust but I’ve come and gone – mostly gone – click here. The subscription rate is high and I never feel I am being told much about brilliant conservation or environmental work for my money. That is not to say that I think the NT doesn’t do any good at all – of course it does. If you’re spending £700m per annum –  Charity Commission website – it would be difficult not to do some good. The question I ask myself, and through this blog I am asking the National Trust, is whether my membership subscription of £91.20 per annum (click here) will deliver a good return of more wildlife in the UK compared with investing it in other organisations. Let’s say I want to invest £500 per annum in UK nature conservation – should I spend nearly a fifth of that on the NT?

The NT seeks transactional members and I am a cause-led potential member. Just look at the recruitment page for NT membership and it’s mostly about what you get, not about how your money can make a difference. You can’t very easily offer both propositions at once and NT has gone very strongly down the transactional route – ‘Ask not what you can do for the environment, ask what the NT can give you’ route. And for your £91 you’ll get free parking, free entry, free access to nice scones, a handbook, a magazine and the chance to vote in the most toxic elections for trustees known to environmental NGOs.  If I were addicted to scones and wanted to discuss how various forms of country sports are genuine historical artefacts for a prolonged period of time then I’d join the NT.

Or would I? It still remains the case that you can get the main transactional benefits of NT membership by joining the NTS – National Trust for Scotland – for c£62 per annum (since I am over 60 – note NT give concessions to the young but not to the old – discuss!) – click here. So even if I were looking for those benefits, I’d be a slightly profligate consumer signing up to the NT – but I don’t see myself as a consumer, I am an investor.

Let me stress, because experience shows that people don’t read what I write they read what they guessed I might have written – I am not saying the NT is completely rubbish, I am considering whether they are a good investment when it comes to wildlife conservation. If you aren’t interested in wildlife conservation you might be worried if any of your £91 goes into wildlife conservation when it could be channeled into reducing the price of scones, but that’s not me.

Most recent Annual Report – click here.

I’d like the NT to answer these 10 questions to give me some more information, I’ll be difficult to persuade but it’s only fair to give them the chance. Comments are open but I will post an official response from the NT if I get one. Let’s aim high and ask the Director General, Hilary McGrady:

Dear Hilary – I hope you are well.

May I ask you the following questions, please? If I get answers that amaze and please me then I’ll consider rejoining the NT.

  1. How much of my £91 per annum membership subscription would be spent on wildlife conservation? How do you come to that figure and how can I check it in your annual reports and accounts?
  2. Does NT really spend over £910,000 per annum on ‘governance’ – click here? How is that sum spent?
  3. The NT is a large landowner, and much of that land holding is farmland of one sort or another. What have been the population trends of farmland birds on NT land over the last 20 years since farmland birds were introduced as a sustainability measure by the last Labour government? Are you doing better or worse than ordinary farmland? Do you know? If not, why not?
  4. Why is your High Peak Vision taking so long to deliver? I praised it back in 2013 – click here – and it is still miles away from fruition. It always feels to me as though the NT announces everything several times and does them very, very slowly. You might say it was supposed to take 50 years but that is to completion and that involved trees growing to maturity etc.
  5. How have you promoted the #Nature2030 campaign and how many signatures has the NT managed to add to the campaign from its 5+million members?
  6. What are your priorities for wildlife for the next 12 months, or next 5 years? And what will be your key actions?
  7. What are the best three things that you have done for wildlife conservation in the past three years?
  8. What are you going to do to mobilise your enormous membership to make a difference for wildlife? What is the key change in government policy that you would wish to be able to say that you, and your 5 million members, helped to achieve?
  9. Would you say that the NT is a leader or a follower when it comes to UK wildlife conservation? Please give examples.
  10. I was pleased to see your account of carbon emissions (p42 of your last Annual Report) and your target of ‘working towards’ carbon net zero by 2030. ‘Working towards’ is good but I wonder whether you could comment on the main challenges which might stop you getting there – or are you confident of success? Do you feel that the NT is a leader or a follower in this regard, being an exemplar of a large complex business which others might look to for inspiration?

It made me smile to see that you think your President ascended to the throne – that was surely an accession not an ascension (somebody may have been playing video games too much).

I do love Wicken Fen and I have to say that the staff and volunteers you have there are very good. When I pay my entrance fee I always say that I’m not a NT member and I can’t imagine that I will be and they take it very well. The cafe at Wicken is pretty good too. The pay and display machine in the car park doesn’t take credit cards though, and asks for a sum of money (I can’t remember what it is) that I never have in cash in my pockets and it doesn’t give change (so I always admit that and pay at the visitor centre). You see, I’m quite prepared to pay for what I use – I will pay for what I get from you.  Wicken reminds me how good the NT could be, and clearly in places is (see here), but it is an outlier in my experience. My main reason for visiting Wicken is in winter to try to spot Hen Harriers coming into roost – what steps have you taken to tell visitors to Wicken or your membership more generally about illegal persecution of Hen Harriers on driven grouse moors?

best wishes,





Signed copies of my most recent book, Reflections, are available from me. Contact [email protected]

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7 Replies to “Being a conservation investor – 2, The National Trust”

  1. ‘not to the old’

    I think they do – but you may have to pay the full sub for 3 years before you qualify for the Old Age Discount, if you are still alive. And it may not be automatic – I had to ask for mine. And they wouldn’t refund the overpayment for 34 years back to when I was 60.

    I just checked our membership status online but there are no category details so I don’t know how our DD is calculated. Possibly using a precious pin that once belonged to a slave owner

    1. Filbert – I think you are right. You have to get even older before you count as old. Now, whether or not such people should get a discount is questionable, but NTS think they should and NT apparently do not.

      1. They do have old codgers’ discount, but you have to look for it. I too overpaid for 6 years.
        We joined to get a discount on their cottages. But they are now too expensive and difficult to book.
        We have dogs and so rarely visit the houses. We just park and walk the dogs – on leads, as required, except for the great off-lead area in Lyme Park. If we’d managed to move up north we’d remain members just for that, but we failed.
        I like your questions. I’d love to visit Wicken Fen – never seen a hen harrier.
        I’m with you on investing. As a fellow new state pensioner, I want to put some money to good use – in addition to our weekly Riverford boxes (since 2006).

  2. Back when we were both a little younger and NT seemed unable to discuss the prevention of hunting across its land. You highlighted that members could save money, especially the over 60s, and join NTS.
    Since we were already thinking of leaving the NT for above reasons and a couple of others, and since we seemed to be spending most of our holidays in Scotland (and still do), we changed to the NTS. Never regretted it. On the rare occasion that we use our card in this country, it has started the occasional discussion, but has never been a problem. Even at Wicken Fen.

  3. I think the National Trust should stop Old Age discounts (or pass them to younger people). I bet most pensioners who want to be NT members can afford to pay the full whack.
    That aside I’m the proud recipient of a certificate and badge for 20 years of volunteering for the National Trust on one of its National Nature Reserves. Actually I’m now on my 23rd year of volunteering and have clocked up over 3,000 hours. As far as I’m concerned it’s payback time – and I probably get as much out of it as I give. A symbiotic relationship………..

  4. Further to my previous comment I want to say that I think your questions to the National Trust are apposite.

  5. I fully support your questions on conservation. But even a positive answer would not encourage me to re-join. I resent being preached to about history, dislike the current woke agenda and am frustrated by some of the re-enactments (of backstairs life). Explain by all means but it is categorically not their job to give little homilies about what happened decades ago and how we should be ashamed. I could go on. Restore Trust is trying hard but should not need to exist.

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