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11 Jun 2023

The Portfolio Review

A view looking from the grand drawing room of Fyvie Castle into the adjoining Gallery, with a large pipe organ on the far wall.
Fyvie Castle
To support the development of our corporate strategy, we have produced several reports to provide additional insight into how we deliver the Trust’s charitable purpose.

At the outset of our Corporate Strategy, we undertook a Portfolio Review, an exercise designed to help us better understand our whole estate and the value we attribute to its components, as well as develop new thinking about we implement the Trust’s charitable purpose.

The Portfolio Review documents the properties that the Trust has in its care and looks at how our portfolio might evolve in the future. The review has been led by the Conservation and Policy teams at the National Trust for Scotland and supported by a cross-departmental working group; we also commissioned the Built Environment Forum Scotland (BEFS) to help us. We have produced a series of reports that provide great insight into the diversity of our properties, their potential evolution, and tools to help explain the cultural, social, environmental and economic significance they hold, as well as completing a detailed assessment of all built heritage properties in our care.

The garden gate lies open to the riverside grounds at Holmwood.

What is the Trust’s portfolio?

The sum of the Trust’s properties and collections forms our portfolio. Our portfolio is unique in Scotland in terms of the number of visited sites and their combination of natural, built and moveable assets. Our portfolio has evolved organically thanks to generous donors.

Here is just a snapshot of some of the heritage in our care:

  • 76,000 hectares of countryside
  • 300,000 precious objects
  • 11,000 archaeological sites and features
  • 15 castles
  • 38 major gardens
  • 5 mills
  • 46 Munros (mountains over 3,000ft)
  • Parts of 8 historic battlefields
  • Over 100,000 plant varieties

What is the purpose of the Trust’s portfolio?

This is a central question to the review and is distinct from the purpose of our individual properties. The National Trust for Scotland’s confirmation order in 1935 set out our charitable purposes, which can be fulfilled through the ownership of both places and objects.

Read more about the Confirmation Acts

Our places act as the focal point for engagement with our members, supporters and the wider public. They provide us with the opportunity of offering commercial and member services. Our places also provide wider social and economic benefits to communities, and environmental benefits to everyone.

An exterior view of Moirlanich Longhouse, with a white limewash on the walls and a red corrugated iron roof.

The Built Estate Asset Register

During the review, special attention was given to the Trust’s built estate, one of the more complex elements of our portfolio. We compiled the Built Estate Asset Register, which provides a comprehensive list of the Trust’s built assets and notes their unique identifier, location, setting, typology, use, age and listing characteristics. The Register contains approximately 1,200 entries and around 30,000 pieces of data relating to the Trust estate.

This dataset now allows us to ask questions of the portfolio such as:

What types of building does the Trust care for?

  • Unsurprisingly, our portfolio of built assets is very diverse. We look after castles, mansion houses, domestic cottages, industrial buildings and commercial museums, amongst others. We also look after a great variety of ‘ancillary’ buildings that support visitor and operational purposes.

Where are the Trust’s buildings located?

  • Our built assets are generally distributed evenly across our regions, but it’s clear that many are located in remote or rural areas.

How old are the Trust’s buildings?

  • A small proportion of our built assets pre-date the 17th century, but the largest proportion principally date to the 18th and 19th centuries. We also look after many buildings built in the 20th century, including those providing operational support as well as modern museums.

What designations apply to the Trust’s built assets?

  • The Trust’s designated built assets are more likely to be designated with the highest level of protection than the national average.

How do we manage our properties?

  • Our use and management of our built assets has a direct impact on our charitable purpose. We have the choice to adapt and change our portfolio in order to be continually relevant.
A pie chart split into 6 pieces - 2 large and 4 small - that reflect the different ways in which the Trust's buildings are used. The 2 large sections are Visited Properties and Commercial Agreements. The 4 smaller sections are lets, tenants, private agreements and guardianship agreements.
A graphic illustrating the wide range of uses of the Trust’s buildings

As a conservation charity, the buildings we care for and maintain are a significant driver of economic investment. The information on condition, age and spread of location supports our future decision-making around resources.

Read more about our Built Estate Analysis and download the full report

Values Framework

The Portfolio Review shares substantial new thinking about a values framework, which should be very helpful for the Trust in future decision-making. The framework allows us to clearly map out conservation, engagement and sustainability values for each place or asset. The framework is informed by various national Sustainable Development Goals and sector expertise. It helps to illustrate that our activity at our properties is directly relevant to our strategic aims.

Our Insights: Values Framework report gives examples of where the values framework has been applied across a wide selection of assets, providing us with new understanding and allowing us to consider the broader applicability across the portfolio. Assets are often of more value when considered collectively – the whole tells a richer story than the sum of the parts.

A multi-coloured graphic, resembling a sun and its rays, that depicts a large number of strategic aims for the National Trust for Scotland. The Trust's crest is at the centre.
A Values Framework graphic, showing alignment with the Trust’s strategic aims of conservation, engagement and sustainability.

We now understand in which areas our portfolio is strongly represented, and where perhaps a building type is not represented at all. This could provide us with a watch list of properties that we can engage with, to diversify public interest. We may consider engaging with more national icons, sites of technological innovation, or individual and social connections with cultural movements or the arts. We may also further explore the interaction of people with place – both what has been left as ‘wild’ landscape and what has become places of work, industry, leisure and homes.

Although acquisition is limited by both availability and resource, the information within the Portfolio Review enables informed decisions to be taken around which stories the Trust will tell next. Those stories may be about places where rural communities once flourished; under-represented groups within Scotland; areas where socio-economic change has reshaped our places through heavy industry; or the ‘new heritage’ formed after the Second World War.

Download a copy of the full Insights: Values Framework report

Old drystone structures stand at the foot of a sweeping hillside, illuminated in the orange glow of the evening sun.

Future considerations

We have created a vision statement to support the Trust’s future policies and strategy:

Restoring, managing and providing access to some of Scotland’s most important heritage sites and objects helps the Trust to deliver its vision of nature, beauty and heritage for everyone. Our exceptional and diverse portfolio contributes to the protection of these places, as well as enabling us to share stories of Scotland’s people, their ideas and creativity, our varied landscapes and key moments in our history which help define our nation.

We combine nature and culture across the past and present. Our places are for everyone so that people and communities throughout Scotland may benefit through enjoyment, learning, health & wellbeing and economic opportunities. We will evolve our portfolio through ownership and partnership in response to opportunities, heritage needs and threats, aiming to be representative and relevant to a wide cross-section of society, whilst ensuring we have sufficient resources in place to ensure future generations will benefit from our guardianship.

We also have some key recommendations:

  • The purpose of our portfolio should be expanded to reflect the broader societal benefits of access to heritage, such as health & wellbeing, learning, environmental, economic and community benefits.
  • We should recognise other mechanisms for protecting Scotland’s heritage, such as the use of Conservation Agreements, sponsorship, and the transfer of ownership to specialist groups and communities.
  • Our strategy should prioritise acquisitions that contribute to gaps (eg heritage types) in our existing portfolio and, if possible, respond to national strategic needs.
  • Our strategy should prioritise acquisitions where we can have a positive impact. This could mean acquiring buildings or landscapes in need of rescue or restoration.

Portfolio Review

pdf (11.98 MB)

Download a copy of the Portfolio Review: Insights, Values & Evaluation.