The National Trust launches green exercise campaign this summer
The National Trust wants us all to grow closer to nature and take more green exercise. Terry Fletcher talks to Janet Bibby the National Trust's new Yorkshire director to find out how
Some of Yorkshire’s most beautiful landscapes will take centre stage this summer as the National Trust sets out to reinvent itself as a catalyst for outdoor exercise and bring visitors closer to nature.
The trust has long been known for its work in preserving historic houses and gardens and opening them to the public but what is often less appreciated is that it is also one of our biggest landowners. It has more than 600,000 acres of the British countryside in its care as well as 700 miles of coastline, 12 of them in Yorkshire – and 50 campsites.
In Yorkshire that includes landmarks like Brimham Rocks, Malham Cove and Roseberry Topping as well as vast areas of moorland around Malham Tarn and across Upper Wharfedale, the South Pennines and the North York Moors National Park. But the trust’s director general, Fiona Reynolds, says that for too long its role in protecting the countryside has inadvertently been one of its best-kept secrets.
Janet Bibby, its newly-appointed regional director in Yorkshire agrees. She says: ‘Mention the National Trust and people automatically think of the big houses and gardens but we are about much more than that. People should not put the National Trust in that one little box. So this year we are setting out to make more people aware of all the other things we do.
The houses and gardens will always be a crucial part of our work but we have so much more to offer to people.’
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In a major shift in direction this summer the trust will be dramatically expanding the range of outdoor activities it offers at its properties, culminating in a national walking festival around the October half term holidays and timed to catch the best of the autumn colours.
In Yorkshire there will be a full programme of hikes starting with gentle, short ‘Walks in Shoes’ suitable for everyone from young children upwards right on to strenuous moorland tramps for more hardened outdoors people.
For the really adventurous there will be rock climbing lessons for beginners and intermediates on the wind-sculpted crags of Brimham Rocks organised in conjunction with the Harrogate Climbing Centre and even llama trekking for those looking for a new walking experience. The World Heritage Site at Fountains Abbey will be the venue for a special cycle ride. Elsewhere there will be kayaking and even surfing sessions.
Ms Bibby, who moved to the trust after seven years as chief executive of the Coalfield Regeneration Trust, said: ‘I come from an urban regeneration background, which is all about changing people’s lives for the better and creating opportunities. I will be trying to do the same thing here.’
As a keen walker herself – she has trekked to the Inca ruins of Machu Pichu in the Andes, climbed Table Mountain in South Africa and hiked in the Canadian Rockies – Ms Bibby is a staunch advocate for the benefits of outdoor exercise and points out that one of the three founders of the trust, Octavia Hill, agreed.
More than one hundred years ago she argued that quiet, air and exercise, together with the sight of the sky and growing things were human needs common to everyone. More recently those Victorian ideals have been given scientific support by research showing that ‘green exercise’ can have significant benefits for mental health.
Ms Bibby went on: ‘We are a charity with a public benefit purpose and we want to make sure as many people as possible can come along and enjoy our properties and get the most out of them. So this summer most of them will be running outdoors events of one sort or another, whether it is in the beautiful park and woodland that surrounds our houses or in the larger coastal and countryside properties.’
The trust already has 3.6 million members who get free admission to its properties and extra visitors can only help to swell its coffers but Ms Bibby insists the new programme is not intended to be a cash-raising venture. Because access to many of the large estates is free the income they generate does not cover the cost of looking after them.
‘The countryside properties will never be money makers and places like Brimham Rocks are cross subsidised by others such as Fountains Abbey. This is about the trust being more outward looking and making sure that people get the maximum possible benefit and enjoyment from our estate.’
Among the trust’s countryside properties are:
Brimham Rocks, near Harrogate, Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, near Ripon, Hardcastle Crags, Hebden Bridge, Marsden Moor, West Yorkshire, land at Bransdale, including the Bridestones and Roseberry Topping on the North York Moors, 12 miles of Yorkshire Coast plus the Old Coastguard Station at Robin Hood’s Bay and land in Upper Wharfedale and around Malham Tarn.