The National Trust: the canary in the mine

The National Trust is having to rethink its strategy because climate change is affecting hundreds of properties and stretches of coastline, the Guardian has learned.

So goes the leading paragraph in the Guardian’s story on the National Trust’s response to climate change. Like many newspapers, the Guardian loves to see a U-turn, or, failing that, a ‘rethink’. But in this instance they are either dead wrong, or years out of date – which is a sin of similar magnitude to a journalist. The National Trust has for many years been at the forefront of work to accommodate rather than fight against the effects of climate change. Whilst some are still convinced that ever-more sophisticated and expensive engineering solutions will be the answer, the Trust is used to taking the long view – after all, they are supposed to look after their assets ‘for ever, for everyone‘. Where they differ from many of those of us who wax lyrical about the virtues of sustainable thinking is that the NT actually do put this principle into practice, and have been quietly doing so for many years (see this article from 2003, or the remarkable tale of Birling Gap in 2001).

Birling Gap

Their policy is quite clear:

…our policy now favours adaptation, to give us time and space to change with the coast and work with the forces of nature…

The NT show this commitment in ways that few can emulate. As the owner of about 10% of England’s coastline they are faced with a huge number of individual decisions to make on coastal defence which, together, add up to one big decision. Other landowners would do well to heed the advice of the NT, and to learn from its willingness to experiment and to take practical action.

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