The National Trust for Scotland was founded in 1931 to harness the energies of the people of Scotland in helping conserve our places of historic interest and natural beauty. We have since grown to be Scotland’s largest conservation movement and membership organisation, with more than 320,000 members. We now own and manage129 visited properties on behalf of the nation and oversee a further 400 Conservation Agreements.
Our staff, volunteers and members provide public benefit by conserving, providing access and supporting learning and enjoyment. From the time of our foundation, we have always taken a wider interest in how well Scotland as a whole manages to conserve and enjoy our common heritage.
Understanding and appreciation of Scotland’s natural and human heritage ultimately rests on telling a story and telling it well. Telling this story, however, is becoming more and more difficult. Not least is the enormous amount of money needed. We estimate that the Trust alone needs to spend an extra £46 million in the next ten years just to meet our existing conservation objectives. This is a big ask for an independent charity.
All heritage bodies are facing severe challenges and governments have concluded that, in austere times, direct funding is not necessarily a priority. This has led to re-organised public agencies that are expected to do more of their own fundraising.
At the Towards a National Collection? Conference held on 15 May 2014, Colin McLean, the Head of Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland, said that it had been estimated that reductions in local authority and other forms of public spending on heritage had declined by as much as £700 million since 2008. Although HLF money was being used to address the funding gap where appropriate, there was simply no way that such support on its own could return provision for heritage to pre-austerity levels. The conclusion therefore was inescapable: given that austerity will be a reality for years to come, the heritage sector has to be reformed.
It is arguable there should be more recognition by policy-makers of the significant contributions the historic and natural environments make to our economy. The notion that heritage is somehow a barrier to economic prosperity is completely wrong, as is the old maxim that “you can’t eat scenery”. A study conducted in 2007 found that the historic environment alone contributed in excess of £2.3 billion (2.6 per cent) to Scotland’s national gross value added, and accounted for 2.5 per cent of total employment. Using 2012 figures, we can compare this to a £758 million contribution from agriculture and £255m from fisheries.
We also know from VisitScotland that domestic and international tourism generated £4.3bn in direct spending – and VisitBritain’s figures show that the bait for tourism spend in Scotland was twice as much because of our outstanding historic and natural landscapes as compared with the rest of the UK. There are also the values the public places on such locations which, of course, are more than economic and can be spiritual, symbolic and personal.
Nevertheless, whether or not you accept the argument that heritage is underappreciated as a sector, the reality is that there will be increasing competition for scarce funds drawn from a limited pool of donors.
There are other factors too that will determine the fate of the Trust and all other heritage organisations and, more importantly, the treasured places and objects they care for:
• Politics - irrespective of current events, we can see that heritage is not necessarily a top priority for any political party
• A multitude of different organisations of all sizes and types in Scotland care for natural and built heritage - none of them can be said to have comprehensive coverage of the entire story of Scotland, especially the 20th century
• Often polarised debate around existing and proposed land reform measures - some suggest that the Trust and other organisations should not put conservation above community aspirations, and should even give up ownership of land and other assets for local good
• Pressure on greenbelt and wild land for development – the recent controversy over housing next to Culloden Battlefield shows that even the most important of sites can be threatened
• Changed visitor expectations – with an enormous range of leisure options and a plethora of digital technology at everyone’s disposal, heritage sites may have work harder to engage with new generations and remain relevant
• Changing tastes and perspectives – one person’s distant heritage is another’s living memory; also, once lauded historic characters and events may hold little interest today
• Climate change threatens natural habitats and may make their conservation unviable; windier and wetter weather damages historic structures that were never built to cope with it.
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