February 21, 2024

The National Trust has called on the UK government to introduce legislation that recognises the importance of adapting buildings, coastlines and countryside to make sure they can cope with the effects of the climate emergency.

It is arguing a new “Climate Resilience Act” should set targets on preparing for the risk posed by rising temperatures and extreme weather, saying “urgent and unswerving attention” on the issue is needed.

The conservation charity is to publish a landmark report on Monday setting out the work it is doing to adapt, such as working with landowners to slow the flow of water off hillsides by restoring peatland or plant trees; restoring river flood plains; and even reviving traditional roofing methods that offer older buildings more protection.

Patrick Begg, the outdoors and natural resources director at the National Trust, said it was a pivotal moment. “We’re at a point where we we need to raise a flag,” he said. “We’re living the change. There are some serious, serious impacts happening.”

The report, “A climate for change”, says that about 70% of the places it cares for could be at “medium or high risk” of climate hazards by 2060.

The Parterre at Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire
The Parterre at Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire. Photograph: National Trust Images

Begg said: “The National Trust is a canary in the mine and every corner we look in is being affected by climate. Being resilient and thinking ahead has never been more needed. This report is drawing that line in the sand and saying this is the moment where we really need to respond properly.

“You don’t call lightly for legislation. I worry that political timeframes, electoral cycles – none of them lend themselves really well to coping with long-term adaptive change.” But he said the trust believed new laws were needed.

The report recommends that the UK government should commit to bringing in clear legal duties and targets for adaptation in the first session of the next parliament. This, it says, could include a statutory duty on public bodies to make climate adaptation a vital factor in decision-making across the UK, which it says could be modelled on measures already in place in the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act in Wales. It suggests a minister for climate adaptation either within the Cabinet Office or the Treasury.

In Wales, the report is calling for more resources to be made available to Cadw, the Welsh government’s historic environment service. In Northern Ireland, it says there should be a statutory duty for public bodies to plan for coastal change and its longer-term effects on communities, the environment and infrastructure. The report does not touch on Scotland as the charity does not cover the country.

An example of adaptation Begg gave is at Fountains Abbey, the magnificent ruins near Ripon, North Yorkshire, that are in peril when the River Skell floods.

Begg said: “It can’t be just about protecting or changing things within the boundary. You have to go right upstream and work with landowners, farmers and the other recreational users on the top of the catchment of the river. And past Fountains Abbey, there are benefits for the community downstream, protecting people in Ripon so water doesn’t come rushing into their front rooms.”

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Other examples set out in the report include dramatically changing planting in the sheltered wall garden at Penrhyn Castle in Bangor, north Wales, where analysis suggests that by 2080 the site might be experiencing weather patterns similar to those in northern Spain. The team there is creating a Mediterranean-style planting scheme within the walls, which will withstand hotter, drier weather.

Also in north Wales, the charity and other partners have installed thermometers that show winter climbers in Cwm Idwal whether they can climb without disturbing the fragile fauna beneath.

In the Lake District, is it “re-meandering” Goldrill Beck to tackle flooding, while at the stately home Cragside, in Northumberland, the Victorian guttering and cement-based mortar cannot cope with 21st-century downpours and have been replaced.

Emma Howard Boyd, the global ambassador for the UN-backed campaign Race to Resilience, said: “I hope this is a catalyst for increased public attention on climate security, a source of guidance and support, and a powerful message to decision-makers in every sector that now is the time to act.”

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