The National Trust has promised to halve its use of fossil fuels and to scrap use of fuel oil completely by 2020. The aim? To generate clean energy and share it with Trust tenants and local communities, to reduce its carbon footprint and to generate income and control costs. As an organisation, the Trust is in a unique position to do this: many sites were once at the heart of self-sufficient estates. Food was farmed within a small radius: water or wind powered mills, and woodlands provided fuel and building materials. ‘The Trust is blessed with natural resources,’ says Kirsty Rice, Energy Adviser for the Trust. ‘Think fast-flowing water, south-facing slopes and more than 20,000 hectares (49,000 acres) of lightly managed woodland. Plus the National Trust’s founders wanted to hold the UK’s built and natural heritage for future generations, and they realised that to do this, our resources would need to be used frugally.’

The Horizontal Engine is used to provide steam power at Quarry Bank Mill, Styal

The Horizontal Engine is used to provide steam power at Quarry Bank Mill, Styal

The story so far Over the last decade a wide range of green energy schemes has been installed at Trust properties across the UK. Oil-powered heaters have been replaced with biomass boilers which use wood chips, pellets and logs, often sourced from the woodlands on local Trust estates. The recently installed, award-winning wood-chip boiler at Castle Drogo on Dartmoor will save £20,000 on previous oil heating costs and reduce CO2 emissions by 325 tonnes per year. ‘The new system is much cleaner and more effective than the old oil-fired boilers,’ says Bryher Mason, House and Collections Manager at Castle Drogo. ‘It’s also great that we were able to put in a system away from the house, removing the fire and spillage hazards associated with oil.’ Over the next five years, there are plans to install a further 30 at a range of properties across the country. Heat pumps, which extract heat from the ground, water, air and sea, and require minimal maintenance, have also been fitted at more than ten Trust properties, including Morden Hall Park in London, Powis Castle and Stackpole in Wales, and are proving successful.

Waterfall from mountain stream on Hafod Y Llan farm, Snowdonia

Waterfall from mountain stream on Hafod Y Llan farm, Snowdonia

One of the more aesthetically challenging domestic technologies is solar thermal and solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. On a modern building like Heelis, the National Trust’s central office in Swindon, they were an obvious choice, and now supply 30 per cent of the building’s electricity needs. But by being a bit more creative the Trust has managed to install solar panelling at 14 historic properties, including behind the parapet of Dunster Castle’s Grade I-listed roof. And as Property Administrator Stephen Hayes says: ‘Most visitors don’t even notice they are there! Completing the project has given us the confidence to explore other ways we can save energy that we hadn’t considered before; we’re now thinking about adding panels to heat water and restoring the Victorian reservoir to water our gardens. I hope what we have done here will inspire other Trust places to do the same.’

The falls and waters of the River Dulais are used to make environmentally-friendly electricity

The falls and waters of the River Dulais are used to make environmentally-friendly electricity

Looking forward One of the most exciting energy sources on Trust land is fast-flowing water. Our philosophy is to build on the long history of mill turbines originally installed to power industrial buildings, such as Gibson Mill in West Yorkshire or at Morden Hall Park, where the new Archimedes screw turbine installed alongside the original water-wheel is London’s first. The Trust’s interest in hydros dates back as far as 1991, when it restored the water-wheel at Aberdulais Falls in Wales. This produces enough electricity for the visitor centre and associated buildings and has become the largest generating water-wheel in Europe. These successes have shown the potential for generating even more hydropower. Over 300 potential sites on Trust land have been identified across Wales and the North West. One is Stickle Ghyll, within view of the newly acquired Sticklebarn, the only Trust-managed pub. Here the local area is supplying produce – beef, lamb, juniper berries for gin – and now, potentially, the power for the buildings. On an even grander scale is the hydro scheme at Snowdon, which will generate enough power for all the Trust’s historic homes in Wales – all realised with the greatest care for the sense of place and wild character of the site.

Cattle grazing in Newlands Valley, Cumbria

Cattle grazing in Newlands Valley, Cumbria

Greener gardening Ed Ikin, Garden and Countryside Manager at Nymans Estate, shares his thoughts on energy-efficient horticulture We gardeners are a practical bunch and being resourceful with energy is nothing new. Before national grids and mains gas, self-sufficiency was a necessity for our gardens and to a certain extent we’re reinventing sustainability.

When challenged to grow pineapples, 18th-century Chelsea Physic Garden Curator Philip Miller found tanning bark released hot vapour as it fermented. By filling deep glasshouse beds with it, Miller replicated the fruit’s desired tropical environment.

Fast-forward to the present day and there are brilliant examples of greener gardens. At Erddig, Wrexham, air-source heat pumps work like ‘reverse fridges’, drawing latent heat from the air and then compressing and releasing it as either hot air or water.

Our great northern estate, Wallington, in Northumberland, has turned to wood power to heat its iconic Edwardian glasshouse. Built in 1908, it provides a cosy year-round environment for both visitors and plants, but this warmth required 20,000 litres of heating oil per annum. Inspired by Wallington’s Carbon Management Project, Head Gardener John Ellis now uses estate wood chips and a biomass boiler to keep the bougainvilleas in the manner to which they are accustomed.

Gardens are becoming more tranquil as electric machinery enters the professional mainstream. Rechargeable hedge cutters, chainsaws and mowers are lighter, quieter and produce no pollution at source: ideal for busy public gardens.

Some gardens take their virtuousness to a whole new level by installing photovoltaic panels for charging equipment and thus removing emissions altogether. Head Gardener Tim Parker installed a 130kW PV system onto the gardeners’ tool store at Polesden Lacey, Surrey, in 2011, where it discreetly generates ample power for the team’s electric machinery.

Meadows present an elegant energy-saving solution. By leaving the mower in the shed for most of the summer, we encourage wildflowers, invertebrates and fungi, and give our visitors a stunning spectacle. Meadows connect us to the freedom and innocence of our childhoods, so it’s no surprise we’re rediscovering their aesthetic values. Nunnington Hall, near York, first sowed meadows in 1998, moving to an annual cut in late summer once the wildflowers had set seed. They’ve been a hit with visitors, who enjoy picnicking among the wildflowers and bug-hunting in the grass. Head Gardener Nick Fraser was delighted to notice his first common spotted orchid there in 2001.

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