English Heritage, Historic Scotland and The National Trusts

Looking After the UK's Historic Treasures

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••• National Trust Images Robert Morris

Now and then, on these pages, you may have noticed that some attractions are run by the National Trust or English Heritage and wondered what they were. One is a charity, and the other is a government department. Both, along with their equivalent organizations in Scotland and Wales, help to preserve much of the character of the modern United Kingdom and the fabric of thousands of attractions.

Though they have different responsibilities, from a visitor's point of view a lot of what they do can seem to overlap. This rundown should explain a bit more about them and their roles.

The National Trust

The National Trust was founded by three Victorian preservationists in 1894 and empowered by an act of Parliament in 1907 to acquire, hold and maintain property in England, Wales and Northern Ireland for the benefit of the nation. A conservation charity and membership organization, the National Trust protects historic places and green spaces, "opening them up forever, for everyone."

Because of its special status, the National Trust is able to acquire properties given by their owners in lieu of taxes. It is not unusual for families to give their homes and estates to the National Trust while retaining the right to continue living in them or to control aspects of their public presentation.

Waddesdon Manor, with its ties to the Rothschild family, and Agatha Christie's summer house, Greenway, are examples of National Trust properties which still have involvement by the families of the original owners. That's why some National Trust properties are only open to the public in part, or on certain days.

The National Trust is the UK's biggest landowner. It employs 450 gardeners and 1,500 garden volunteers to look after one of the world's greatest collections of historic gardens and rare plants. It protects:

  • more than 300 historic buildings
  • about 618,000 acres of land of designated outstanding beauty
  • 700 miles of coastline - including one of the UK's best official nude beaches at Studland Bay
  • more than a million works of art at 200 different locations - one of the world's greatest collections of art and historical objects
  • 73,000 archaeological sites

The National Trust for Scotland

Similar to the National Trust, the National Trust for Scotland was founded in 1931. It is a registered charity, dependent upon donations, subscriptions and legacies and responsible for managing:

  • The St. Kilda World Heritage Site
  • 16 islands
  • about 188,000 acres of countryside
  • 7 national nature reserves
  • 129 properties including castles, palaces, country houses, famous battle sites, gardens and birthplaces of famous Scots.

English Heritage

English Heritage is part of a UK government department. It has three main responsibilities:

  • it maintains the government's official roll of listed buildings and advises local and national planning authorities on listing applications. Once listed, properties are protected from inappropriate change by law and may be eligible for conservation grants.
  • it looks after more than 400 historic sites and ancient monuments that are open to the public.
  • it awards grants for the conservation of historic properties.

Scotland and Wales

In Wales, the role of listing historic properties, awarding grants for their conservation and managing some of them is held by Cadw, a government department. And in Scotland, a similar function is performed by Historic Scotland, a branch of the Scottish government.

What you need to know to plan your visit

The responsibilities of these organizations and government departments overlap and figuring out which one is responsible for landmark properties, parks and countryside can seem confusing. In general:

  1. English Heritage and its equivalent departments in Wales and Scotland look after older properties directly connected to political history such as castles, forts, and famous battlefields. These organizations also look after listed ancient monuments like Stonehenge and Silbury Hill.
  2. The National Trust and the National Trust for Scotland look after buildings that are connected with social history such as stately homes,important art collections, gardens and landscaped gardens as well as countryside and coastal open spaces and wildlife reserves.
  1. The Trusts maintain a sort of public ownership. They own the properties they manage and hold them in trust for the public. In some circumstances, the families connected with National Trust properties may retain the right to live in them. The properties are open to the public, at least in part, though they may be closed for part of the year for conservation and repairs.
  2. Though English Heritage, Cadw and Historic Scotland own some of the properties they manage, they are listing and grant-making bodies. Sometimes grants are awarded to private owners on condition that they open their property to the public. Lulworth Castle, for example, is a private estate restored with English Heritage funds and thus open to visitors.
  1. English Heritage properties range from impressive castles to barely recognizable ruins. A large proportion is free to visit without admission charge and, if safe, open at any reasonable time. The National Trust almost always charges admissions fee (though countryside and seashore are usually free for visitors) and visiting times are usually limited and vary throughout the year.

To add to the confusion, there are hundreds of exceptions to which group is responsible for what. In some cases, both the trust and the heritage department, National Trust and English Heritage, may be responsible for different parts of the same property or may manage whole properties for each other.

And Why Should You Care?

All these organizations offer a range of membership packages, some of which include free entry to attractions and events in their equivalent organizations and some of which do not. If you are considering joining or buying an annual or overseas visitor's pass, it's worth knowing who's who among these and which operates the attractions and landmarks you'd like to visit. For membership and passes, check out: