Sustainability at the heart of The National Trust

October 28th, 2010 by Richard Lord

Malcolm Anderson, Environmental Practices Adviser to The National Trust in the south-west, presents "The Shock of the New" to the Channel Islands Group of Professional Engineers (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

Malcolm Anderson was interviewed by Jenny Kendall-Tobias on BBC Radio Guernsey on the morning of 20 October.  His interview is in two parts.  Part 1. Part 2.

Malcolm Anderson gave a wonderful presentation to the Channel Island Group of Professional Engineers at the Duke of Richmond Hotel on the evening of 20 October 2010.

He began by outlining the size and scale of The National Trust, which was established by an Act of Parliament.  The National Trust owns 6000 farms and over 700 miles of the UK shoreline, and has more than 2000 agricultural tenants. It has 3.9 million members, 5,000 members of staff, 50,000 volunteers, and 3749 oil tanks, and it spent £6.5 million per year on energy in 2009.

The National Trust cannot sell most of its buildings; it has to protect and maintain its valuable assets forever. Its reputation is at stake if these assets are lost or suffer damage so it takes a long term view; it has to have a sustainable future.

The National Trust is already experiencing the impact of climate change with an increase in droughts interspersed with shorter, heavier bursts of rain. Drought cause properties to subside and deluges of rain cause old gutters to fail. Coastal properties have experienced increased erosion. A landslip occurred on National Trust property near Lyme Regis in Dorset.  Flash floods cost The National Trust in excess of £1.3 million in damages in 2007.

Besides the increased cost of property maintenance, The National Trust, anticipates that energy prices could quadruple over the next five to ten years.  Its vulnerability to energy price rises led it to set a goal of sourcing 50 percent of its total energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020.

The charity doesn’t have massive funds but it realised that it would achieve a better rate-of-return if it invested in energy efficiency and renewable energy production.  It set a target to improve energy efficiency in all properties to the bronze standard within five years.  This requires draught proofing, loft insulation, and secondary glazing.

The National Trust recently installed smart meters in all its Welsh properties; it will roll out smart metering to the rest of its larger properties in the UK.  The National Trust now reads its energy bills for gas, oil and electricity on a monthly basis.  Monitoring energy use has the effect of reducing energy consumption by approximately five percent.

UK rental properties must have an energy performance certificate which ranks energy efficiency on a scale of A-G.  If the property is poorly rated it is more difficult to rent.  The National Trust is, where possible due to historic building fabric, tackling problem properties with loft and wall insulation, draught proofing and secondary glazing.  It is adding wood chip and pellet boilers were appropriate as it has plenty of land to grow its own fuel.  The National Trust is starting to look to manage its land as a carbon store.  It is estimated that the annual unharvested increment in English woodlands is something like four million tonnes. There are also 14 million tons of wood available for burning from wasted timber and saw dust from manufacturing processes.

After The National Trust has achieved energy savings of 20 percent what does it do next?  Malcolm Anderson spoke about wind turbines but admitted that they provoke “a Marmite moment” because they are either loved or hated.

Malcolm Anderson gave specific examples of National Trust investments.  At the Kynance Café in Kynance Cove, Cornwall The National Trust has installed photovoltaic panels to make the café energy self-sufficient.

Gibson Mill, a National Trust property in Yorkshire, required a significant investment to connect to the national grid.  Instead, The National Trust invested in the historic disused water turbine and installed photovoltaic panels so that the Mill could remain off-grid.  The Trust installed a human-powered pulley lift for people to use between floors.

Malcolm Anderson said that energy saving measures and micro-renewable energy systems were installed at the same time as a property required major refurbishment so the energy efficiency improvements were only a small part of the overall budget.

Wherever possible, natural insulation like sheep’s wool, hemp and blown cellulose was used because old buildings needed to breathe, he said.  With their large acreage of managed woodland The National Trust has invested in ceramic log stoves and biomass boilers to become as sustainable as possible.

At their Kingston Lacy Estate, The National Trust is investigating the use of an anaerobic digester to use sewage, cattle sludge, and green waste to produce methane gas as an energy source.

Malcolm Anderson said that the Victorians were clever; they made use of local natural resources.  In many cases The National Trust is simply reinstating what was originally there.

With the latest government feed-in-tariffs, The National Trust investment in micro-renewable energy systems has increased substantially.  This investment includes large scale ground-mounted photovoltaic panels in Wales alongside numerous photovoltaic systems ranging from 15 to 35 kW have been installed on National Trust buildings.

The National Trust’s investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy not only helps secure its long term future.  It also sets an example to its 3.9 million members and 16 million visitors of what needs to be done for a sustainable future.

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