Today a globally-renowned heritage leader will warn that apathy towards our world heritage poses a greater risk to it than climate change, war and conflict or natural disasters.
The mounds at Sutton Hoo – Photo credit Justin Minns
In her first major speech as head of the International National Trusts Organisation (INTO), Dame Fiona Reynolds, former Director-General of the National Trust and Master of Emmanuel College Cambridge, will outline her stark warning on World Heritage Day. In the speech she will also call for a global commitment to a ten-year plan to increase awareness of the social, spiritual and economic value of international heritage sites
Dame Fiona will highlight in her speech the imminent threats to world heritage and the role that the world’s biggest and broadest heritage membership group can have in saving it.
She will call for UNESCO, WWF and others to join with INTO to commit to a 2025 strategy that will both highlight the benefits of a thriving heritage sector and look at innovative ways to help countries and territories tackle threats on the ground.
“Our INTO members are the canaries in the coal mine. From Fiji to South Korea and Canada to Uganda, our member organisations defend some of the world’s most special places. They are the ones who can see every day and at first hand the effects of climate change, bad planning and apathy towards heritage.
“I asked all of our 66 member organisations that constitute INTO across the world what they saw as the greatest threat to world heritage. I expected climate change, war and conflict or even tourism to be their response. But there was one resounding and clear answer from them – apathy on behalf of both governments and people”.
Dame Fiona Reynolds
World Heritage status is very important but only the tip of the iceberg – less than one per cent of the earth’s surface is designated a World Heritage Site. Even then a recent WWF report showed that half of our natural world heritage sites are under threat from development and exploitation. These are the most notable heritage sites on the planet: if we can’t protect them, what on earth is going to happen to the rest?
The danger is clear. Unless we act and work towards significantly changing public and official attitudes to heritage, then by 2025, largely through neglect and apathy, we risk letting a large proportion of our built and natural heritage disappear.
Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire – photo credit Justin Minns
Examples from across the INTO network:
Martindale Hall, South Australia
Entrusted to the nation by a donor in the 1950, the future of Martindale Hall, South Australia, has been in doubt for the past few months as the local government decided to sell it off to a property developer. Inspired by their visit to Wimpole Hall during the INTO conference last year, the National Trust of South Australia is about to start working together with the international National Trust movement on finding a viable future for the property as a heritage-based tourism attraction utilising the buildings and grounds to create a unique destination celebrating its cultural and agricultural heritage.
Merdeka Stadium, Malaysia
When Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, proclaimed Malaysian Independence on 31st August 1957, he stood in the middle of the Stadium field and shouted out “Merdeka” seven times. This scene, often shown on film and in print, is etched on the psyche of all Malaysians. Nevertheless the stadium was nearly demolished in the 1990s. It was the National Trust, Badan Warisan Malaysia, that was able to help save Merdeka as part of a public-private partnership and today the stadium has a new lease of life for sporting events and concerts alongside “The Road to Nationhood” museum.
The Trust has been fighting for years to address coastal blight. Since the 1930s, the coast at Plémont had been scarred with the development of a series of holiday camps. When such holidays went into decline the site became vulnerable to redevelopment proposals commencing with an application in 1998 for 117 residential units.
In January 2000, The National Trust for Jersey (NTJ) began campaigning for the site to be “returned to nature”. Eventually the ‘Love Plemont’ project – after many ups and downs – resulted in the safeguarding of 11.3 acres of coastal headland in 2014 which is now slowly being returned to nature.
Bickenbach country house, Cochabamba, Bolivia
Sdenka Fuertes, a young Bolivian architect, received death threats when trying to save and protect the Bickenbach country house in Cochabamba. Built in the Moorish style for the German family of Ernesto Bickenbach, the house and its garden setting became neglected and at risk of redevelopment. After a lengthy and menacing battle, the Bolivian Society for Historical Studies, Heritage and Restoration lobbied for the house to be expropriated and put to cultural use for the benefit of the city. The society also successfully used ICOMOS’s 1981 Florence Charter to argue that the historic garden could not be separated from the house which accompanies it and have managed to keep the site intact for future generations.
National Trust for England, Wales and Northern Ireland
Four years ago, the National Trust ran a successful campaign against the government’s plans to unpick England’s planning legislation. The threat has not gone away however and the planning system is still in jeopardy today. The Trust is worried about a great raft of government initiatives which threaten to undermine some of the changes won back in 2012, such as the pressure on Green Belts to be allocated for housing (Christchurch has reduced theirs by 6% and Newcastle-Upon-Tyne by 9%) and the incorrect application of policies designed to protect Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (including the recent decision to grant permission for the huge potash mine in the North York Moors national park).
Back in 1907, Sir Robert Hunter, one of the National Trust’s founders, expressed what he saw as the Trust’s role within the broader debate on land use. He talks about the efforts of all three founders to influence parliamentary bills proposing development on common land or the construction of railways through areas such as Snowdonia and the Lake District and comments on the young National Trust that ‘Its work is by no means confined to the purchase of Places of Interest and Beauty. It fosters action to protect such Places, to ward disaster and to stimulate municipal and private opinion’.
Czech National Trust
“The Communist era was damaging to heritage in Czechoslovakia. It left properties uncared for and instilled in people a feeling that heritage had nothing to do with them, it was for the state to care. The big challenge is to reconnect people with their heritage and restart a culture of volunteering” says Chairman, Dr Irena Edwards.
Facts and figures:
- 45% of local authorities are considering selling or passing on management of green space to others (State of UK Public Parks, Heritage Lottery Fund, 2014)
- 90% of trendy bars and restaurants of the five major US cities are in historic buildings (National Trust for Historic Preservation)
- Canadians have lost more than 20% of their heritage places in the last 30 years (National Trust for Canada)
- Twenty rural villages are destroyed by developers every day (Ruan Yisan Heritage Foundation, China)