The National Trust was last night warned not to meddle in politics after it vowed to step up attempts to tackle climate change. Critics said the charity risked damaging its popularity by getting mired in a debate that bitterly divides politicians, economists and the public.
The backlash came after director-general Dame Helen Ghosh yesterday set out how the organisation would actively campaign to slow the pace of global warming. She insisted its charitable status should not stop it taking a stance.
The former senior civil servant said: ‘Like any other charity we cannot be political with a capital ‘P’, but that doesn’t stop us from campaigning on issues that strike at the heart of what our charitable purpose asks us to do.
‘All the practical evidence we have at the trust shows that the biggest challenge we are now facing concerns the threat to biodiversity and wildlife.’
The organisation – which describes itself as Europe’s biggest conservation charity – has already launched its ten-year strategy in which it said climate change ‘poses the single biggest threat’ to the places it looks after.
It pledged to meet half its energy needs with green sources such as wind, solar and hydropower by 2020.
But Dame Helen went further yesterday, telling The Sunday Telegraph she was especially concerned about the effects of climate change on the Trust’s 775 miles of coastline – saying parts of it were ‘falling off into the sea’.
Insects such as silverfish, which are found in warm and damp areas including under carpets in many Trust properties, are no longer being killed off by ‘crisp, cold winters’. […]
But Peter Bone, Conservative MP for Wellingborough, last night said the subject was better left to Parliament.
‘It seems to me very surprising that the National Trust has taken this stance – it is entering a political debate with very strongly held views on both sides,’ he said.
‘I would not have thought that is the role of a charity like the National Trust. I would suggest that the subject would be better left to politicians to debate the issue.’
Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Forum – a think-tank which is sceptical of the extent of climate change – added: ‘The National Trust risks alienating a lot of its members over this issue.
‘Why have they come out now after 20 years of debate about climate change? It is a very popular organisation and I fear that this step will cause lots of trouble with its membership.
‘This is a token gesture that will not change anything in terms of policy.’