It has given me enormous pleasure and pride to be President of the National Trust for the last four years and before that its Vice President for seven years. The centenary of the National Trust Act of 1907 provides an opportunity to reflect on the role of the Trust, and all that it has achieved since its inception. It has flourished as an independent charity, grown surely beyond the wildest dreams of its Founders and, in doing so, has enabled the public to have access to thousands of beautiful and remarkable properties. The Act, which gave the Trust the legal power to hold a property for ‘permanent preservation for the benefit of the nation’, began the National Trust’s extraordinary journey from a small acorn to the Great British institutional oak it is today. I would like to pay a special tribute to the members and thousands of volunteers and staff who have so far made this possible, and to the many generous benefactors who have endowed their land and properties to the Trust’s careful and caring stewardship.
Reaching such a milestone also provokes contemplation about the opportunities and challenges that will present themselves as we settle into the twenty-first century. Through the Trust, we must continue to emphasise the importance of preserving and conserving the best of our heritage for future generations. Although today we see an increased appreciation of precious landscape and architecture, clearly demonstrated by the Trust’s ever-increasing membership and the success of recent campaigns like History Matters, the Trust’s role is more vital than ever, with so much of our natural and built environment under threat. We must ensure that responsible, sustainable choices are made.
After a century, the National Trust must also reflect on the meaning of that now over-used term, sustainability. In its custodianship of landscapes and historic buildings large and small, the Trust is particularly well-placed to celebrate those timeless qualities of craftsmanship and harmony between man and Nature ? the qualities of beauty ? that create accumulating value over generations. I can only pray the Trust will continue to consider these touchstones as it develops its estates, and when building anew, just as much as when restoring our heritage.
The Trust itself must be protected from decline so that it can continue to develop and expand its important work. This, of course, has a financial cost and funding will inevitably be a challenge in the years to come. Many of the National Trust’s properties are as fragile as they are beautiful and the Trust needs the financial strength to preserve land and buildings threatened by development or neglect. Thi si san important time in the National Trust’s history and we must honour the legacy of the Founders by continuing to think in terms of the decades and centuries ahead ? indeed, in perpetuity. I hope that, like me, you will have the opportunity to explore the variety of beautiful places in its care and, as a result, perhaps be moved to support the work of the National trust in preserving the best of our heritage for the centuries to come.