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Spirit of place: HS2 and the power of space at Hardwick Hall

Samuel Weaver is an intern working on the National Trust’s project to minimise the impact of High Speed Railway 2 (HS2). In this post he will be looking at the potential impact it will have on Hardwick Hall. Check out last week’s post on another property at risk from HS2 here.

As I make my way through the winding drive-way of Hardwick’s estate, the dominating presence of the Hall comes into view. Its raised position on the plateau of the hill means it demands the respect and attention from any onlooker.


However, I am not here for a nice day out, but for the purpose of preserving this priceless asset.

Sadly, the proposed route for HS2 will pass in close proximity to the property. HS2 have said the track would be ‘sitting low in the landscape past the hall’

Although, this is not strictly true.

The M1 is already lying in the valley close to the property and by HS2’s logic, the railway track could be similarly hidden by keeping it in the same corridor. However, the M1 is largely hidden from the estate, whilst the proposed HS2 track would have to be cut deep into the other side of the valley, becoming very much visible from the building and grounds.

HS2's route will cut into the oppostie valley

HS2′s route will cut into the opposite side of the valley

Also, Hardwick’s attraction comes from its dominance of the surrounding landscape. So if HS2 were to become a prominent feature within the landscape, it would undermine the experience for thousands of visitors that it attracts each year.

More of Hardwick's stunning landscape

More of Hardwick’s stunning landscape

National Trust’s HS2 project leader for the Midlands Keith Challis had this to say:

‘A large part of the significance of great houses like Hardwick comes from how we view them within the landscape. Protecting key views to and from Hardwick Hall is an essential part of our work to minimise the impact of HS2. This requires careful assessment of the extent to which HS2 will encroach on the experience of visitors both as they approach the Hall and as they explore the house and grounds.’

Everything about the property was created as a statement of power. This came from the building’s simple symmetry and pioneering large glass windows, which earned the saying ‘Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall’.

Inside is no different. On the third floor, just walking through the High Great Chamber and one of the longest galleries in the UK makes the visitor feel humble to its powerful ancestral owners.

Hardwick's famous tapestries

Hardwick’s famous tapestries

Hardwick Hall is not only a great display of Elizabethan skill and workmanship, but it also perfectly reflects its original owner’s character. During the Elizabethan times, Bess Shrewsbury made a name for herself as a formidable and authoritative woman. As well as being the second richest person in England after the Queen, she boasted an impressive amount of political power.

Therefore, keeping HS2 hidden away is integral to maintaining the visitor’s experience and ‘spirit’ of the place.

It is worth clarifying, whilst the National Trust is neither for nor against the principle of high speed railway, it is arguing the project should not impact on heritage and ecology.

Samuel Weaver is a Media and Communications intern at the National Trust.

He is a recent History graduate from the University of the West of England. When not selling sausages in a deli, he usually occupies himself by researching and blogging on our nation’s more overlooked heritage.


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Spirit of place: HS2 and the seclusion of Hartwell

Sam Weaver is a Media and Communications intern at the National Trust. Over the next few months he will be following the politics of preserving our heritage. Check out last week’s post here

Past an idyllic public house, a small patch of woodland and over a picturesque stone bridge, sits the historically important Hartwell House.


Considering the property’s wonderfully preserved nature and seclusion, it isn’t surprising it now functions as a hotel and a spa. However, this might all change as the proposed High Speed Rail (HS2) route plans to steamroll straight past the building.

Hartwell has had an impressive history. It was the home to many prominent individuals, including the exiled Louis XVIII of France during the early 19th Century. It was in the library where he signed the reinstatement of his rule once Napoleon had been defeated.

The grounds also have served as a retreat from the urban sprawl of Aylesbury. Its lake is perfectly landscaped across the length of the land, which is home to a plethora of ducks and swans. Additionally, two lines of trees and a fence hidden in a neat ditch (known as a ‘ha ha’) create a far reaching ‘avenue’, which adds a certain tranquillity to the landscape beyond explanation.

Hartwell's avenue

Hartwell’s avenue

Hidden fence or 'ha ha'

Hidden fence or ‘ha ha’

The fact that parts of the estate will be destroyed for the railway, the undervalued ‘spirit’ of the building and surrounding landscape is likely to be at risk.

Not only will the route cut into the important screen of trees already in place to ensure the properties seclusion, it would also run across the end of the avenue, which will mean it will be in sight of the property.

The noise from the high speed railway is also a worry. As it stands, HS2 have calculated the noise could be kept to an acceptable level.

Consulting sound engineer on the National Trust’s HS2 project Alan Nethersole has said that: ‘with current plans, it will be impossible to not hear the railway from the building. If Hartwell House benefits from being a quite retreat, then the sound from the trains every few minutes will be a problem.’

Alan also noted that guests will notice the sounds much more than someone who is used to the noise. Considering this, the sound would have disastrous effects on the experience of the inhabitants of the hotel.

Although the English Heritage listing system can protect historic properties from destruction, project leaders for HS2 are still yet to recognise the railway could harm the visitors’ experience of buildings like Hartwell.

Whilst the National Trust is neither for nor against the idea of HS2, it feels that it should be built so that ecology and heritage are protected.

Watch this short video explaining National Trust’s plan to reduce the impact of HS2 on Hartwell.

Samuel Weaver is a Media and Communications intern at the National Trust.

He is a recent History graduate from the University of the West of England. When not selling sausages in a deli, he usually occupies himself by researching and blogging on our nation’s more overlooked heritage.

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The A303: Safeguarding Stonehenge’s future

In this series of blog posts Ellie Dewdney will be keeping you up to date with current issues that could affect Britain’s most special places and what the National Trust are doing to preserve these national treasures.

 It will come as no surprise that here at the National Trust we are great fans of Stonehenge; not only does the landscape hold huge archaeological significance but it’s one of Britain’s most admired and iconic places.

The beautiful Stonehenge

The beautiful Stonehenge

So naturally the Government’s next Autumn Statement, which may contain an announcement about improving Britain’s road network – including a strategy for the A303 road running alongside the Stonehenge monument – will be of much interest to the Trust.

This area has already been the source of considerable debate over the years. Just last June, by closing and grassing over almost a kilometre section of the A344, which ran within touching distance of Stonehenge, English Heritage and ourselves were finally able to put into action plans that were suggested as early as 1927.

Grassed over A344

Grassed over A344

The A344's old route by the Heel Stone

The A344′s old route by the Heel Stone

 Although there remain some local road issues to resolve, this change has been widely welcomed, as it has significantly improved the visitors’ experience and the authenticity of the site. The road closure has helped restore much tranquillity to the Stonehenge monument and has also had a positive archaeological impact; Stonehenge and its processional avenue have finally been reunited.

 As Loraine Knowles, Stonehenge Director, English Heritage said

when all the works are complete, people will be able to experience this complex and extraordinary monument in a more tranquil, natural setting.”

 However, the A303 is still a real blot on the Stonehenge landscape, as well as being a traffic black spot for those heading to the South West.

Stonehenge and the A303

Stonehenge and the A303


Like many we recognise there are real problems at Stonehenge and we have for many years supported the principle of improving the road network in order to improve the road and the quality of the environment across the Stonehenge Landscape. Some people are insisting change is needed to ease congestion levels no matter what the impact on the landscape. At the Trust we believe that the current round of road improvements might provide an opportunity to finally give Stonehenge the scheme it deserves and that means a world class solution for a world class place. We will be engaging very closely with the Government and our key partners over the next year to ensure we help to protect this very special place.


Ellie is the current Land and Landscape Intern at the National Trust. She read Classical Archaeology and


Ancient History at Oriel College, Oxford and graduated last summer. She’s loves writing and is enthusiastic

about making sure people are up to date on issues affecting some of Britain’s most loved places.



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Mysteries Cloaked in Mist: Invisible Innovation at a Welsh Country House

In this series of posts, Sophie McGovern explores debate and innovation around renewable energy and sustainability

Plas Newydd
was shrouded in mist when we arrived at 8.30 on a chilly spring morning. As well as obscuring views of Snowdonia National Park it was also concealing other mysteries. I’d travelled to the property on the Isle of Anglesey to find out all about them.

If you were asked to guess at the unlikely innovation hidden within the historic house and grounds you’d be excused for drawing a blank. Gazing at grand portraits in the Gothic Hall and strolling past Rex Whistler’s murals it seems that conservation, not innovation is at the core of things.

 In fact, Plas Newydd is one of several National Trust properties that are leading the way when it comes to renewable energy innovation.   I was there to attend a Fit for the Future Network event along with representatives from RSPB, Bangor University, Ashden, Anglesey Sea Zoo and local authorities. The Network is for not-for-profits and public sector organisations that want to share best practise around sustainability and cut carbon emissions, which is exactly what the day was all about.

National Trust Fit for the Future Network event, Wales

Fit for the Future Network event at Plas Newydd

The hundred-odd visitors were introduced to two systems that are being installed at Plas Newydd to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. You’d think that a field-scale solar installation and the UK’s largest marine source heat pump would be pretty obvious, but we needed National Trust’s energy experts Keith Jones and Paul Southall to help us find them.

Field-scale solar

Set in a field away from the mansion, the ground-elevated solar panels can’t be seen from the main visitor area and have been well placed for minimum visual impact. Keith explains that site selection is essential when it comes to installing renewables at heritage properties.  He also points out that field-scale solar doesn’t stop land from being functional; the panels are at optimum grazing height to accommodate the local Welsh mountain sheep. Solar can be a good fit for our precious places if we get the planning right, as I explored in my last post.

Field-scale solar PV at National Trust property

Field-scale solar PV at Plas Newydd

The UK’s largest marine source heat pump

On the misty shore of the Menai Strait Paul introduced us to the brand new housing for what will be one of the first, and certainly the largest marine source heat pump in the UK. By extracting heat from the sea it will create enough energy to heat the entire mansion. For a property that is currently the Trust’s biggest oil guzzler this means serious transformation. The pump is one of five innovative projects being piloted by the National Trust’s renewable energy programme in partnership with Good Energy.

Why invisible innovation?

So why is invisible innovation so important to the National Trust? We want the places we look after to stay special, and by installing renewable energy systems we’re helping to safeguard them for the future. The ‘invisible’ aspect is about ensuring that we also safeguard their beauty and heritage. By carefully considering the right renewable and the best location we can install innovation that works with the landscape.

The field-scale  solar and heat pump at Plas Newydd are part of our pledge to produce fifty per cent of our energy using renewables by 2020. Find out where else we’re installing examples of invisible innovation and why the Fit for Future network is attracting the UK’s largest organisations to its ranks.


Sophie blogSophie-Ann McGovern is a media and communications intern at National Trust with a focus on energy and sustainability. She has a BA English Literature from Leeds University and an MA Creative writing from Bath Spa. When not working at the Trust she can generally be found scampering around the countryside, cruising along the Kennet and Avon in her solar powered narrow boat, playing accordion, foraging for wild food or making up stories and writing them down. Over the next six month you can follow her adventures and insights relating to sustainable energy and ideas sharing on the National Trust Places blog.

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Solar Planning and our Precious Places- the Big Debate

In this series of posts, Sophie McGovern explores debate and innovation around renewable energy and sustainability

Here at National Trust we think solar PV is a fantastic renewable technology. It’s set to become the cheapest low-carbon technology based on current projections, and it is argued that solar will put a ceiling on our rising energy costs, not nuclear or fracking. All things considered solar development has profound economic and environmental benefits. That’s why we’ve already installed panels at some of the special places we look after.

Solar PV that works with the landscape of the Farne Islands

Solar PV that works with the landscape of the Farne Islands

But do the economic and environmental benefits mean that solar planning should be pushed through at any cost, anywhere?

I recently attended Eco Build 2014 where National Trust’s Senior External Affairs Advisor, James Lloyd spoke on the topic of solar planning. Although agreeing that solar has something immensely valuable to contribute to both community and environment, James argued the case for opposing inappropriately sited large-scale PV on our most sensitive landscapes.

Maintaining a Social License to Operate

When debating best practice around solar planning it’s apt to consider how public opinion regarding wind power and fracking has declined in recent times. At the moment solar has a relatively positive public profile, but inappropriate and irresponsible planning in sensitive areas could damage this. Developers looking out for their own short-term interests could negatively affect the long-term prospects of the industry. With growth there is risk, and the industry needs to maintain a social license to operate if it is to become a viable energy alternative. A number of UK solar farm developments have already been blocked due to local opposition and an increase in such cases could really set solar back.

Lloyd argues that:

“Ultimately the industry needs to win over hearts and minds. We have deep connections to our special places here in Britain and decisions on planning should respect this connection instead of focusing solely on utility and process. We want solar to make our special places even more special, not less so. To do this, developers need to engage communities and consider the wider reaching benefits for wildlife, landscape and the local economy.”

Development that considers community and conservation

Conservation benefits of solar can include wild flower plating

Solar PV can deliver conservation benefits

The Solar Trade Association’s 10 Commitments and the National Solar Centre’s sector based planning guidance are an excellent start when it comes to a better approach to development, but the industry needs to go further. Solar developments that work with communities and with the spirit of a place are the way forward. Planning and site selection is a crucial part of this, as is early community engagement and the early sharing of any environmental impacts.

It is also important to consider how renewables can enhance the function of the landscape. We need to consider the potential benefits to local community and their precious places. Panels take up a small percentage of field space, for example, and there is scope for using the remaining land to deliver conservation or economic benefits. This could be through wild flower planting that attracts pollinators and thus has a positive impact on local wildlife and agriculture. The greatest opportunity with solar is community ownership, which will enable local people to generate energy for themselves.

National Trust believes strongly in the need to grow renewable energy- we have a target to generate 50 per cent of our own energy from renewables by 2020- but we also believe that this can be done without putting the beauty of our natural and built heritage at risk. With the right approach renewables can make our places more, not less special.

We welcome you to join in the solar debate. Do you think that PV should be installed regardless of impact on landscape? Do you oppose solar development in a precious place near you?


Sophie blog

Sophie-Ann McGovern is a media and communications intern at National Trust with a focus on energy and sustainability. She has a BA English Literature from Leeds University and an MA Creative writing from Bath Spa.
When not working at the Trust she can generally be found scampering around the countryside, cruising along the Kennet and Avon in her solar powered narrow boat, playing accordion, foraging for wild food or making up stories and writing them down.

Over the next six month you can follow her adventures and insights relating to sustainable energy and ideas sharing on the National Trust Places blog.

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National Trust calls for our most special places to be frack free zones

We’ve joined up with other leading countryside groups to call for our most sensitive areas to become frack-free zones and for improved regulation of shale gas.

In a report called ‘Are we fit to frack?’, developed with the Angling Trust , RSPB, the Salmon & Trout Association, The Wildlife Trusts and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, we set out ten recommendations for Government to make fracking safer.

Morecambe Bay in Cumbria is one of many special places for nature that may be affected by the shale gas industry

Morecambe Bay in Cumbria is one of many special places for nature that may be affected by the shale gas industry

Frack-free zones

The recommendations are based on a full technical evidence report which has been peer reviewed by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, one of the UK’s leading ecological research institutes. It is supported by a cross party group of MPs including Zac Goldsmith, Alan Whitehead and Tessa Munt.

We are calling for all protected wildlife areas, nature reserves and national parks to be frack-free zones, for full environmental assessments to be carried out for each drilling proposal, and for the shale gas industry to pay the costs of its regulation and any pollution clean-ups.

Serious concerns

The report highlights a lack of regulation around shale gas exploitation which could cause serious impacts for a range of threatened species including pink footed geese, salmon and barbastelle bats.  It also raises serious concerns about the impact of drilling and water contamination on some of our most precious natural habitats such as chalk streams.  These crystal clear waterways are known to anglers and wildlife-lovers as England’s coral reefs – 85 per cent of the world’s chalk streams are found here.

Barbastelle bat (Barbastella barbastellus)

Barbastelle bat ©National Trust Images/Bat Conservation Trust/Hugh Clark

Simon Pryor, our natural environment director, said: “The debate on fracking needs to be evidence based. The evidence from this detailed research clearly reveals that the regulation of shale gas needs to be improved if it’s to offer adequate protection for sensitive environments.

“Whilst the Government is keen to see rapid roll out of fracking, there’s a real danger that the regulatory system simply isn’t keeping pace. The Government should rule out fracking in the most sensitive areas and ensure that the regulations offer sufficient protection to our treasured natural and historic environment.”

The recommendations contained in the report are:

  1. Avoid sensitive areas for wildlife and water resources by creating shale gas extraction exclusion zones.
  2.  Make Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) mandatory for shale gas extraction proposals.
  3. Require shale extraction companies to pay for a world-class regulatory regime.
  4. Prevent taxpayers from bearing the costs of accidental pollution.
  5. Make water companies statutory consultees in the planning process.
  6. Require all hydraulic fracturing operations to operate under a Groundwater Permit.
  7. Make sure the Best Available Techniques (BAT) for mine waste management are rigorously defined and regularly reviewed.
  8. Ensure full transparency of the shale gas industry and its environmental impact.
  9. Ensure monitoring and testing of shale gas operations is rigorous and independent.
  10. Minimise and monitor methane emissions.


  • The National Trust has committed to reduce its energy use by 20 per cent, halve fossil fuel consumption and generate 50 per cent of its energy from renewable energy sources by 2020. For more information go to: 

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Fun with Forest Schools in Leigh Woods

What is a Forest School? Children and Nature Intern Julia Bush took a trip to Bristol to find out with the children who love having fun in the National Trust’s Leigh Woods.

You can learn more about Forest Schools and why they matter at and you can discover more great places to play outdoors at

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Managed retreat at Birling Gap

Originally posted on National Trust Places:

Perched on the cliff above the beach at Birling Gap, the all-in-one National Trust café, shop and information point welcomes an estimated 350,000 visitors a year. Whatever the weather, you can recline in the sun lounge, enjoying views towards Beachy Head in the east and the iconic Seven Sisters in the west.
Seven Sisters and Birling Gap © Howard Bristol

Seven Sisters and Birling Gap
© Howard Bristol

But the cliffs hide a worrying truth; they are eroding by on average 0.7m per year, giving the sun lounge itself an estimated life span of 12 years.

As the National Trust is keen to work with (not against) natural processes wherever possible, the property team at Birling Gap are following a policy of managed realignment, and have come up with some creative ways to adapt to coastal change.

Firstly, they have been busy converting the building’s unused rooms, which are furthest away from the shore, into a comfortable beach…

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Love is in the (Very Cold and Windy) Air!

Here at the National Trust we’re coming over all romantic. With the January blues becoming a faint memory, February’s wet and cold weather needn’t stop our hearts warming and our cheeks blushing.

Now there’s only one time of year we can rightly feel soppy and weep softly as we watch every chick-flick going. That’s right; Valentine’s Day is upon us!

You might be a single lady or gent who couldn’t care less about this ill-appointed day, or a couple so hopelessly in love that you spend every moment of every day staring into one another’s eyes, either way we have something to make you love life this February 14th.

Lovey-Dovey Luncheons

Nothing inspires romance like ruby red jam and rich clotted cream smothered on a scone! Why not go down the traditional route and have a sumptuous afternoon tea for two at one of our beautiful cafes. We recommend Basildon Park, West Berkshire where you can enjoy oodles of delicate sandwiches, dainty cakes and tantalising teas. Also to be enjoyed with friends; who needs love when you can have a slice of cake as big as your face!

Wistful Wanderings

If you’re one for frolicking in the rain in a frilly white shirt, how about going all Wuthering Heights and taking a stroll along one of our stunning coastal paths. Weather permitting, if you take the Silverdale Coastal Walk, Lancashire in the evening you can cuddle up and see amazing sunsets over the MorecambeBay. Alternatively, the area is great for dog walking, so why not take man’s best friend for a much needed cliff-top ramble!

Cosy Country Pubs

Don’t fancy frizzy hair on Valentine’s? Get out of the rain and find yourself a cosy fireside spot for two at one of our country pubs. Grab a pint of real ale at the acclaimed Spread Eagle Inn or Red Lion Inn at Stourhead, Wiltshire. The pubs are also renowned for serving a selection of delicious locally sourced dishes!

Heartfelt History

Follow in the footsteps of some of the most epic romances at our special places. Visit the honeymoon destination of Queen Elizabeth II’s parents and fall in love at Polesden Lacy, Surrey. Or sympathise with a sad love-story and discover the tragic passion of Rex Whistler and his unrequited love for Caroline Paget at Plas Newydd, Anglesey.

Perfect Pressies

Why not lavish that number one person in your life with a unique, handcrafted gift from one of our shops. The Courts Garden, Wiltshire you can purchase anything from garden gifts, local artwork and even one of a kind jewellery. Even if you’re going solo this Valentine’s, the beauty of shopping is that you don’t need an excuse to treat yourself to something fabulous!

So here’s to celebrating all the lovely relationships in your life this Valentine’s Day. Have an experience to remember with the National Trust!

Seals in Love ©Andrew Parkinson

Seals in Love ©Andrew Parkinson


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Running along the Ridgeway

What’s your favourite outdoor memory? For Helen Ghosh, Director General of the National Trust, it’s walking along the Ridgeway in Oxfordshire in summer sunshine with her children. She tells the story in a new video to support the National Trust’s work to connect children with nature.

This week the National Trust is supporting new campaign Project Wild Thing in asking people to share what they love about ‘wild time’, sparking a conversation about why getting out into nature is important.

Project Wild Thing is a new campaign, supported by thousands of individuals and organisations, aimed at getting a generation of young people in the UK outdoors and back to nature.

Launched with the release of a feature documentary film last October, Project Wild Thing is calling on everyone – children, parents, grandparents, teachers – to take the Wild Time pledge and spend at least 30 minutes more time outdoors every day.

The campaign is a reaction to how disconnected from nature children and young people have become. The RSPB estimates that just 1 in 5 children under twelve have a ‘connection to nature’. More children can identify a Dalek than can spot a Magpie.

If there is one thing that’s missing out this Valentine’s Day it’s nature. In Project Wild Thing, broadcaster and naturalist Chris Packham bemoans how ‘biodiversity has fallen, the number of species listed as endangered has increased, the pressure on the countryside has increased tenfold, and the species that’s closest to extinction out there in British woods and waysides is the kid’.

This Valentine’s Day, we’re asking people to forego the teddies and bottles of champagne and share why they love nature – in a blog, on video or through a social media posting.

David Bond, Marketing Director for Nature and star of the recent Project Wild Thing film, said: ‘Every February we spend hundreds of millions on romance. This year, ditch the spending and help us re-wild a generation of kids with a wild Valentine’s message for nature.’

Go to to find out more about the campaign and join the movement.


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