Climate change needs ‘urgent, unswerving attention’, National Trust warns

The National Trust is calling on all political parties to ramp up progress on adaptation by introducing new legislation that recognises the importance of adapting buildings, coastlines and countryside to cope with the impacts of climate change.

It comes as the Trust launches a landmark report – A Climate for Change – which outlines for the first time the charity’s approach to climate adaptation and details how technology is helping detect future threats to its places, ahead of COP28.

The charity says parties should commit to legislating in the first session of the next parliament by writing into law a Climate Resilience Act with clear legal duties and targets for adaptation.

As the UK’s largest conservation charity, caring for 250,000 hectares of land, 780 miles of coastline and 220 gardens and parks, the Trust says it is already experiencing first-hand the consequences of more frequent extreme weather events – from heavier rainfall causing repeated flooding, to rising temperatures, prolonged periods of drought and more wildfires across its landholding.

Previous analysis by GIS Consultants 3Keel revealed that nearly three-quarters (71 per cent) of the places looked after by the charity could be at a medium or high risk of climate hazards by 2060.

It is also calling for decision-making that builds climate considerations into all government processes, and for leaders and organisations everywhere to start working together to prepare for climate impacts.

Patrick Begg, Outdoors and Natural Resources Director at the National Trust said: “Climate change presents the single biggest threat to the places in our care and the single biggest challenge to our mission – to look after places of nature, beauty and history for everyone to enjoy, now and in the future.

“It demands our urgent and unswerving attention, and we call on our partners and on Governments across the UK to stand with us, and to do more to confront the challenges we all face.

“Our responsibility spans hundreds of historic sites, buildings and some of the nation’s most loved coastlines, rivers and countryside.

“These places are our national heritage and are treasured by people here in the UK and much further afield; last year we received 24 million visitors to our historic houses, gardens and estates.

“This is a serious obligation and we do not claim to have all the answers. But we do know that adapting to changing climate is essential if the Trust is to live up to its founding purpose.”

“We are seeing a stream of weather records regularly broken, making it extremely likely that 2023 will be the hottest year ever, with experts already predicting next year is likely to be even hotter.

“And, in just the last month, two major storms, Babet and Ciarán, caused beaches to be eroded, flooding in our gardens, significant trees to topple and, ironically, for our hydro at Cragside in Northumberland – the birthplace of hydroelectricity – to be temporarily overwhelmed.

The places where the Trust is already taking an adaptive approach are many and varied, from sites employing traditional methods, such as slate hanging on the gables of a Welsh cottage to help stop water ingress from driving rain [Dyffryn Mymbyr in Eryri (Snowdonia)], to working with farmers to adapt their land by restoring peatlands and planting trees [Darnbrook Farm in the Yorkshire Dales].

It is also working with communities to record important archaeology before it is lost to the sea [Dinas Dinlle on the Gwynedd coast] and engaging local people on how best to deal with rising sea levels and increasing storms undermining harbour walls [Mullion Harbour in Cornwall].

The Trust is also using nature-based solutions, such as re-meandering rivers [Goldrill Beck in the Lake District], simultaneously slowing flood peaks and restoring nature and carbon-rich habitats; and future-proofing historic gardens by planting new schemes to cope with changing weather patterns and periods of drought [Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire] and considering the long-term future of gardens at risk of erosion [Mount Stewart, County Down].

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