Ever since it was founded in 1895, the National Trust has been considered a good thing. That oak tree sticker on the windscreen isn’t just a passport to some of the country’s finest heritage. It is a middle class status symbol declaring that you are cultured, a lover of the bucolic, someone who’d rather their children went out collecting tadpoles and tramping round nature reserves than staying in glued to an iPad.
But the Trust, originally set up to ensure ‘the preservation for the benefit of the nation of lands and tenements of beauty or historic interest’ seems to have abandoned at least one of the laudable aims that made it so popular. As the country’s second largest landowner (after the Forestry Commission and well ahead of the Queen), with estates that generate nearly £500 million a year, it can afford to behave as it likes. And this summer it bought Thorneythwaite, a 303 acre farm in the Lake District. The Trust’s opening bid was an astonishing £950,000 — £200,000 over the asking price. In one stroke it priced out local farmers who had hoped to preserve Thorney thwaite as a working farm to pass on to the next generation. That used to be the Trust’s aim, too, but here it wanted just the land; not the farmhouse and outbuildings, which were a separate lot priced at £800,000 and have reportedly been bought by another bidder.
Outside the Lakes, only Melvyn Bragg seemed aghast at this. Famously proud of his Cumbrian roots, Lord Bragg denounced the purchase as ‘disgraceful’, arguing that had a billionaire made the same bid there would have been a ‘deserved outcry’. The Trust claimed that it was concerned by just that — a prime slice of the Lakes being snapped up by a foreign owner or property investor.