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Our history

A view of the entrance to Pollok House, seen from the surrounding woodland.

From our very beginning, we’ve existed to protect Scotland’s places of historic interest or natural beauty.

The National Trust for Scotland serves the nation as a cabinet into which it can put some of its valuable things, where they will be perfectly safe for all time, and where they are open to be seen and enjoyed by everyone.’ (Sir John Stirling Maxwell, at the Trust’s first Annual General Meeting in 1932)

The creation of the National Trust for Scotland

Sir John was Vice-President of the Association for the Preservation (now Protection) of Rural Scotland (APRS) and was a prime mover behind the establishment of the Trust. In 1929 the APRS was offered the Loch Dee estate in Galloway as a gift, but was unable to accept it. It was then discussed with the National Trust in England, who had the powers to acquire land in Scotland at that time although had not done so until that point. The idea of a separate Scottish Trust was proposed instead, with the aim of preserving and caring for land and buildings north of the border.

Over the following year, formal discussions at APRS meetings and some informal discussions held in the Cedar Room of Sir John’s home at Pollok House led to an open letter dated 6 August 1930 that stated: ‘it was unanimously agreed that a National Trust for Scotland was very necessary, indeed essential.

Several other notable public figures helped to set up the organisation, including Sir Iain Colquhoun, David Lindsay, 27th Earl of Crawford & Balcarres and John Stewart-Murray, 8th Duke of Atholl, who became the first President of the Trust. On 1 May 1931, the organisation was formally constituted as the National Trust for Scotland for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty Ltd. In the same year the Trust held its first meeting and received its first property: Crookston Castle (then in Renfrewshire), given to the Trust by Sir John Stirling Maxwell.

Find out more about Sir John Stirling Maxwell

At various stages in the 1930s, the Trust was granted more powers to protect Scotland’s heritage, and preserve articles and objects that have artistic or antiquarian interest. Since then, we’ve been called on to protect and care for more and more of Scotland’s heritage and we’ve achieved many remarkable things. We’re now the biggest conservation organisation in the country.

We're custodians of 38 gardens. 8 national nature reserves and 27 castles and houses.

Big moments in our history

Since our foundation, we’ve acquired some of Scotland’s most valuable built and natural heritage. One of our first acquisitions was Glencoe, which was purchased by the Trust at a roup (an auction) in 1935, together with financial contributions coming from the Scottish Mountaineering Club. Most of the SMC’s money was gifted by the mountaineer and philanthropist Percy Unna, who laid out conditions for the management of the estate in the Unna Principles – these principles still lie behind much of our work today.

A decade later, as the Second World War finished, we acquired one of our most famous and popular properties, Culzean Castle. It was given to the Trust as a gift by the Marquess of Ailsa, along with the spectacular formal gardens and woodland, which became Scotland’s first country park in 1969.

In 1952 we were appointed to take care of our first royal property, Falkland Palace, by the Hereditary Keeper of the palace at the time, Major Michael Crichton Stuart. The Trust became the Deputy Keeper and has maintained the palace and its gardens ever since.

1957 saw us taking on the care and protection of the very special archipelago of St Kilda. In 1986 the islands were declared Scotland’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of their natural significance. Today it’s the only place in the UK to have achieved dual status, with both the natural and cultural importance recognised in 2005. Also in 1986, we acquired Robert Smail’s Printing Works in Innerleithen, which shows the amazing breadth of our work and our commitment to protecting Scotland’s heritage in all its forms.

We’ve added to the precious places in our care in every decade since we began, ranging from historic buildings like Craigievar Castle (1963) and natural landscapes such as St Abb’s Head (1980) to ground-breaking interpretive experiences at Robert Burns Birthplace Museum (2008).

Some of our proudest achievements

National Nature Reserves

In 2017, we were delighted that Mar Lodge Estate was designated Scotland’s newest and largest NNR, which along with Glencoe joined the other 6 NNRs already in our care. National Nature Reserves offer another layer of protection to internationally significant habitats and wildlife. This award is only given to the best nature reserves in Scotland.

Find out more about our National Nature Reserves

A view of a wide mountain plateau, with tall mountains in the background, on a bright sunny day. Faint wispy clouds hover above the mountain tops. A large round boulder stands in the foreground, before a river runs through the moorland.
Mar Loge Estate National Nature Reserve in the Cairngorm
We conserve 76,000 hectares of countryside from Wester Ross to Ayrshire - that's the size of over 100,000 football pitches.

Little Houses Improvement Scheme

In 1960 we launched the Little Houses Improvement Scheme, with the aim of restoring historical houses so that they could be resold and their heritage stories live on. This was inspired by our innovative conservation work in a little 17th-century village in Fife, which began in 1932 when we acquired Culross Palace and continues to this day.

Find out more about Little Houses

White crow-stepped houses surround a cobbled market square, with a large stone pillar at the centre.
The Royal Burgh of Culross

School of Heritage Gardening

A year later we founded our School for Heritage Gardening at Threave Garden & Estate, to provide education and training for horticultural students. The unique garden design at Threave has been created by generations of gardening students from this school. Threave is also home to Scotland’s first bat reserve, which opened in 2011, to celebrate the fact that eight of Scotland’s native bat species can be found here.

Find out more about the School of Heritage Gardening

Two women crouch by a vegetable bed in a walled garden. The woman in the background is working on the plants. The lady in the foreground smiles at the camera.
Students at the School of Heritage Gardening, Threave Garden.

Ground-breaking conservation projects

In 2005 we launched a programme to eradicate rats on the island of Canna – the most ambitious pest control plan of its kind ever seen in the UK. In 2008, after over 4,300 traps had been hand-laid and with the help of experts from all over the world, Canna was declared rat-free. This has ensured the safety of the island’s precious seabird colonies as well as the rare Canna mouse.

Find out more about the success of our breeding seabird colonies

A group of oystercatchers fly over the sea, with cliffs seen in the background.
Oystercatchers in flight at Canna.

2008 was also the year when we officially opened our new visitor centre at Culloden to provide an immersive and interactive experience that tells the story of the famous battle in 1746. The centre also stands as a poignant monument to that pivotal day in Scotland’s history.

Most recently, we have transformed the visitor centre at Glencoe after investing more than £1 million; the doors opened in 2019. The new centre is an informative, eco-friendly gateway to Glencoe and, like Culloden, takes a fresh approach to telling our most important stories.

Our love keeps growing!

As the years have passed, our passion for conservation and sharing Scotland’s heritage has grown stronger and stronger. In 2017, work began on Project Reveal, the biggest digitisation project that we’ve ever undertaken. Four specialist regional teams spent 2 years cataloguing and photographing every item in the collections at 47 different Trust properties.

And to bring us right up to the present day, we’re at the early stages of an innovative and world-leading conservation project to save Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Hill House. Construction began in 2018 of the unique Hill House Box, made from stainless steel mesh and which fully encases the architectural masterpiece to protect it from the rain. This will allow the walls to dry out, giving us time to work on new research and restoration plans for the building.

Every day, we’re inspired by our almost century-old commitment to sharing and protecting Scotland’s heritage for everyone to enjoy, both today and in the future. We’re excited to continue this vital, ever-evolving work for many, many more years to come.