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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