GT welcomes the cap on National Trust landscape redundancies

National Trust redundancies affect landscape staff

The Gardens Trust sincerely regrets the scale of the redundancies announced today by the National Trust and the impact this will have on their heritage responsibilities. We are relieved to note, however, that our appeals to protect their landscape and garden conservation work have been heeded, with a cap on redundancies in this sector.

Today, the National Trust has announced measures intended to save around £100 million in annual expenditure. The total number of redundancies attributed to the Covid 19 pandemic is put at over 1,450. This appears to represent approximately 15% of the total workforce. The Gardens Trust sincerely regrets that the Trust has felt it necessary to take such drastic steps to cut expenditure and is concerned at the impact of the loss of such a large number of skilled and experienced specialist staff on its ability to discharge its heritage and conservation responsibilities. The Gardens Trust extends its sympathies to all those directly affected by these redundancies and their families.

We note, though, that the scale of the reduction in the garden and designed landscape sector of the Trust’s work has been capped. Whilst even this loss of skilled staff is a retrograde step, we are grateful that our pleas for this sector have been acknowledged. We also welcome the re-statement of the Trust’s commitment to maintaining conservation standards.

Partnership working and volunteers

The National Trust’s new vision includes great emphasis on working with partners. Partnership working is at the heart of what the Gardens Trust does and we are ready to seek out opportunities to work with the National Trust. With our affiliated County Gardens Trusts we have a huge volunteer workforce, renowned for its enthusiasm, energy and expertise. However, we remain clear that volunteer effort functions best when it is designed to complement rather than replace paid professional staff.

Conservation ‘for everyone, for ever’

We remain concerned about other changes that the Trust appears to be envisaging to its future role and the possibility that it is considering taking a more ‘relaxed’ approach to how it looks after and presents the gardens under its custodianship.

Many of these are of national, and some of international, historic significance. It is essential that there should be no dilution in the Trust’s commitment to their conservation for the benefit of present and future generations, and we will take a keen interest as further details of its vision for the future are revealed.

Concerns expressed to the National Trust

These concerns were laid out in a letter from our Chair Peter Hughes to Hilary McGrady, Director General of the National Trust on 17 September.

“We appreciate the cash flow problems that the pandemic has caused the National Trust and the need to take measures to control expenditure. The difficulty is, though, that what is being discussed appears to have been part of the Trust’s thinking since before the lockdown. Tony Berry’s ‘Towards a 10 year vision’ presentation makes no reference whatsoever to the pandemic. It is, plainly, intended as a reset for the Trust’s priorities. We and our members (many of whom are also National Trust members) are deeply concerned that the Trust is in danger of embarking on a course to abandon its historic role of conserving and protecting our national garden heritage in favour of what Tony Berry describes as ‘a bolder approach … developing a new, more relaxed, garden aesthetic free from existing styles and expectations.’

Conservation involves ensuring that the spirit of the place, the significant qualities that make somewhere special, are protected, enhanced, understood and enjoyed by present and future generations. There is widespread anxiety as to what this ‘bolder approach’ may entail, and what lasting damage it may cause. If, on mature reflection, it has been abandoned or rejected, it would be helpful to know that.

I regret that, so far, you have done nothing to reassure us that the concerns are ill-founded. The removal of a representative of the Gardens Trust from the Gardens Panel, and the fact that the post of Head of Gardens has been vacant for two years, add to the concerns. It suggests that gardens may have a low priority in the Trust’s agenda other than their exploitation as a source of revenue. The Gardens Trust has a statutory role under the National Heritage Act 1983 in relation to any garden or designed landscape on the National Heritage List as a consultee on applications for permission to change or develop a site subject to the Act. Many of these sites are under the custodianship of the National Trust. We will be watching developments closely. We hope that a situation in which we feel obliged to challenge what is planned can be avoided. We are anxious to avoid misunderstanding and to allay any fears that may be groundless. Therefore, we urge you to give much greater clarification as to just what the Trust is intending. We are more than willing to meet and/or engage with you, if that could assist.”

Read the earlier Letter from the National Trust to the Gardens Trust following our response to the initial consultation:

National Trust spending cut plans

Image: Bridgewater Monument, National Trust’s Ashridge Estate by Ian Petticrew, CC BY-SA 2.0,

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Painswick Roccoco Gardens, the Red House, Photo © Joab Smith