National Trust Director General putting 'rocket boosters' on action to save wildlife and combat climate change

Tom Clarke

Former Science Editor

The head of the National Trust has told ITV News she is putting "rocket boosters" on planting forests and regenerating uplands to save wildlife and combat climate change.

Today marks the 125th birthday of the National Trust.

Its founder members, Octavia Hill and Cannon Hardwicke Rawnsley initially campaigned to save outdoor spaces from the pressure of late Victorian developers - the stately homes and cream teas only came later.

Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley - the founders of the National Trust. Credit: National Trust Images

To mark this anniversary, the Trust's Director General, Hilary McGrady, wants a return to those roots.

In the face of what she doesn't hesitate to call a "climate crisis" and catastrophic declines in wildlife, organisations like hers have no choice.

As well as becoming carbon neutral by 2030 she wants one of the greatest woodland expansions in UK history.

The Trust wants to plant 18,000 hectares of its land with new trees by 2030.

That's 20 million trees covering an area one-and-a-half times the size of Manchester.

All the major political parties, many councils and corporations have all made similar promises, but the Trust, which boast 5.6 million members, says it's done its homework, has raised the necessary capital and is deadly serious.

As well as planting millions of trees, it wants to allow areas of upland (it owns 80,000 hectares) to regenerate - allowing boggy areas, trees and shrubs to return.

Pressure is increasing on owners of uplands to make them better at storing planet warming carbon, and absorbing rainfall during storms - regeneration like this could do the trick.

But the plan is likely to put them at odds with farmers and possibly even their own tenants.

Of the quarter of a million hectares of land the trust owns, half of it is let to farmers.

Although the majority of UK farmers accept they must do their part to reduce their carbon footprint, many are understandably worried how they might make a living if large parts of England, Wales and Northern Ireland currently used to graze sheep or grow crops might end up as woodland.

"I don't see it has to be a conflict with farmers," Hilary McGrady tells me.

"I know change is coming, they know change is coming.

"We're very willing to work with them and we recognise they need to be able to farm."