The National Trust movement began in England in 1895 when three philanthropists who were concerned about the impact of uncontrolled development and industrialization banded together to create an organization that would “act as a guardian for the nation in the acquisition and protection of threatened coastline, countryside and buildings.”
Since that time, the National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (the National Trust) has grown to become one of the world’s largest and most successful charitable organizations and one of the world’s most effective forces for conservation. The concept of a “national trust” has also spread around the world, and National Trusts (or equivalent organizations founded on similar principles) can now be found in at least 50 countries. It is estimated that National Trusts comprise more than seven million members worldwide.
INTERNATIONAL NATIONAL TRUSTS ORGANIZATION
For many years, National Trusts and similar organizations have gathered every two or three years for mutual support, to share expertise, and to compare and coordinate their conservation actions and activities. In 2007, at a gathering in New Delhi, India, the movement took a significant step toward greater coordination and effectiveness with the creation of the International National Trusts Organization (INTO), which has a mandate to help facilitate collaboration and best practices among National Trusts and similar organizations, and to help grow and strengthen the movement. The Land Conservancy of British Columbia was a founding member of INTO, and Bill Turner, former Executive Director of TLC and now a founding Director of NTLC, was elected to the Executive Committee and currently serves as INTO’s Vice-Chair.
NATIONAL TRUST PRINCIPLES
There is no specific definition of a “National Trust”, as the various organizations around the world which are identified as National Trusts have each evolved independently and within their own circumstances and, as such, have a variety of mandates, structures and priorities. However, the members of INTO have developed a set of principles which they consider to be fundamental, and which form the criteria for admission as a full member. These principles provide the closest approximation to a definition so, accordingly, a National Trust organization:
- has as its principal purpose the conservation of cultural and/or natural heritage, and is professionally engaged in programs and activities to further such a purpose;
- is substantially independent and autonomous of government. (It may be established under government legislation or receive government funding, but it must remain independent from government influence with respect to its governance, operations and policies);
- must be a voluntary organization, governed by a voluntary board of directors;
- must be a membership-based organization;
- must be established for public benefit and not for profit;
- has the capacity to develop, assess, analyze, promote and influence policy with respect to conservation;
- is involved in public education, public advocacy and raising public awareness about conservation;
- is actively engaged in the practical management of cultural/natural heritage properties;
- is engaged on a national level.
Further to these principles, it has been the experience of a number of the more established Trust organizations (in particular, the U.K. and Australia) that the success of National Trusts stems largely from the breadth of their mandate; that is, being involved in the conservation of both natural and cultural heritage. For many Trust organizations that breadth of mandate includes the protection of areas of recreational and scientific value, agricultural properties and other working landscapes as well. It is strongly argued that people who support the conservation of one kind of property are very likely to support others as well – for the most part, people see the protection of their environment and their community as parts of the same whole.