Case study: The National Trust

An Insider Pressure Group

The National Trust was founded in 1895 and is Europe’s largest conservation charity. It has a membership of over 5 million, far in excess of any political party or trade union. It is also a major landowner with over 600,000 acres of land in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (Scotland has a separate but parallel charity).

Among its key aims and objectives are:

It is long established, membership is still probably disproportionately white and middle class, it has a formal organisational structure and some of its senior officials are drawn from the top ranks of the civil service or other public bodies. For example, a former director-general, Dame Helen Ghosh, had previously been a senior civil servant in the Home Office.

It also has ties with the political establishment in other ways. Under various Acts of Parliament from 1907 onwards the Trust is allowed, uniquely, to declare its land ‘inalienable’, meaning it can never be built upon or compulsorily purchased without specific parliamentary approval. In addition, although completely free of the state, it sometimes receives government grants for specific projects, for example from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. It is also routinely consulted on arts and cultural issues. It does however on occasion speak out against government policies it sees as detrimental to its objectives. For example, in 2011 it took a strong public stance against government-proposed changes to land- use planning in England. It argued that changes to the planning system would make it easier to build on greenfield sites, had been rushed through parliament and represented a serious threat to the countryside.

It set up a petition signed by thousands, and the government did later modify aspects of its national planning policy to accommodate some of the fears raised by the Trust and other environmental groups.

It has also in turn been influenced by other pressure groups. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests it accelerated research into the links between some of its historic properties and the slave trade, with the pledge to inform visitors about these links.The National Trust is also a good example of a pressure group with a large ‘chequebook membership’. Many of its paid-up members join mainly for the services it offers, such as free parking at its coastal sites and free admission to its properties. Relatively few take an active part in its campaigning and lobbying work, although it could be assumed that nearly all would support such work albeit passively.