If I were answering that question in the early 19th century, I wouldn’t necessarily speak of buildings or landscapes; our forebears were more than happy to obliterate anything, be it natural, prehistoric or medieval, that stood in the way of progress.
By 1931, the year the Trust was established, opinions were changing. Influences included the preceding Arts and Crafts movement and the work of Octavia Hill leading to the establishment of the National Trust in England. Formed by people associated with the Association for the Preservation of Rural Scotland, the entirely independent National Trust for Scotland has a proud record in pioneering public access to the countryside, rescuing and conserving historically and architecturally significant buildings and gardens, and could arguably said to be the earliest and still largest example of ‘community ownership.’
83 years on and the Trust is no longer one of a very few ‘players on the field’ so far as Scotland is concerned. Public access to the countryside is now enshrined as a lawful right, and there are many organisations - public, private and charitable - involved in conservation. Demographic, social and technological factors have altered public perceptions and attitudes out of all recognition. While the Trust, to a great extent, exists to ensure that the artefacts of those changes are conserved for new generations to appreciate, it is not itself immune from change.
As many will know, in recent times the Trust did not have its troubles to seek. Economic factors played a large part in the Trust coming close to the brink, as well as outdated management and governance practices. In 2011, following on from a review led by the Rt Hon Sir George Reid, we set about addressing these weaknesses and we encapsulated our objectives in a five-year Strategy.
Although we are only just passing the halfway point of delivering the strategy, we have achieved many of our objectives and now need to consider the longer-term future of the Trust. How should we respond to the needs of 21st century society and, as an independent charity, can we re-shape the Trust to accommodate the expectations and behaviours of new generations?
This is your opportunity to help us formulate our response to these challenges. I hope you will take the time to look through the information provided on the other pages in this site and offer your views.
Returning to the original question; what is heritage?
At the end of this process we hope to have defined answers that reflect changing times and circumstances. If we can do this then the Trust might be sustained for another eighty years, albeit by adopting new structures and ways of working – so long as the end result is that what we all consider to be the most significant heritage of this small part of the world called Scotland is conserved and safeguarded.