This year marks the 125th anniversary of the National Trust. It also happens to be my 25th year as President of this great British institution which, with your valuable support, continues to play a vital role in our national life.
When our three founders established their new organization in 1895 it would surely have seemed impossible to them, or indeed anyone else, that a membership of millions of people would one day own and support 250,000 hectares of farmland, 780 miles of coastline and more than 500 historic properties, together with glorious gardens and spectacular Nature reserves. This remarkable outcome is due not just to their vision, but to their insistence that owning land and property on behalf of the Nation was essential if it was to be saved for ever from the threat of development and loss of public access.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to those pioneers and to everyone whose support over the years has made the current situation a reality. Your membership is much more than a pass to beautiful places: every penny you spend helps keep these places alive and special for the future, and open to all. Miles of coastal paths, iconic wilderness sites in the Lake District and precious woodland habitats – all rich in Nature – remain open to explore because of the support of generations of National Trust members.
I believe passionately that today’s challenges make the National Trust more important than ever. And, as I write this now, events are progressing at the most extraordinary pace and are touching all our lives. The global spread of coronavirus is challenging society in a way that we have not experienced for generations and as a direct impact it has, of course, necessitated the temporary closure of the National Trust’s properties, parks and gardens too. Sadly, the situation has also forced the cancellation of the 125th Anniversary Garden Party that was due to take place at Buckingham Palace on Thursday 14th May, when I had much been looking forward to meeting many of you. While this is undoubtedly a great shame, I know the anniversary will not be overlooked and I shall do whatever I can to play my part in celebrating this important milestone – however remotely. Meanwhile, I wholeheartedly applaud Tim Parker and his fellow trustees for their swift and pragmatic response to the coronavirus pandemic, which cannot have been easy.
On top of this pandemic, we are also facing crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, both of which stem from our unwillingness to value Nature properly and to recognize the limits set by the renewable boundaries of our planet. The National Trust is powerfully engaged in countering the effects of these crises. The plans for the next ten years include 20 million more trees and developing green corridors that enhance biodiversity and are accessible from our towns and cities. This is particularly important because our work is not just about preservation and avoiding further losses. There are huge opportunities actively to restore and improve the natural environment that sustains, engages and delights us in equal measure.
At a time when public appetite for change has never been higher, the backing of millions of people gives the Trust the scale and influence to be heard and to make things happen. At the same time, it continues to provide countless ways for us all to connect personally and profoundly with Nature and our heritage, and to be inspired to take action ourselves.
While this year’s milestone anniversary may be depressingly overshadowed by the current crisis, I can only say how enormously privileged I am to have watched this remarkable institution grow over the last 25 years and hope you will look forward, as much as I do, to seeing the next chapter unfold.