National Trust membership reaches 5m mark for the first time

Membership of the National Trust has reached five million for the first time, the organisation has said.

Visitor numbers have also soared to record highs, with 24.5 million visits to the National Trust's paid entry properties and an estimated 200 million trips last year to coastal sites and countryside managed by the conservation charity.

The trust, which was founded in 1895, has increased its membership by a million people in just six years, having previously taken 86 years to reach the milestone of its first million members.

The soaring membership and visitor numbers show the "country's love affair with its heritage and great outdoors has never been stronger", chairman Tim Parker said.

It also means extra money for the more than 500 places the organisation owns and looks after, from castles to cottages, townhouses, gardens, landscapes and coastline.

The trust's annual report reveals a record £139.3 million was spent on maintaining and improving properties and sites, up 15% on the previous year.

A total of £225 million was spent on the day-to-day costs of running the places the charity looks after across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Donations and gifts from legacies rose to £73 million last year, helping fund projects such as a campaign to reinvigorate Sir Winston Churchill's legacy and secure the future of his former Chartwell home.

The National Trust said it is funded entirely by membership, visitor income, donations and commercial activities, and the growing support has allowed it to double the number of curators.

It has also completed a number of major projects this year, including a multi-million pound conservation studio at Knole, Kent.

It has plans to create 25,000 hectares (62,000 acres) of new habitat on its land by 2025 to help wildlife.

The high-profile organisation has also faced recent rows over its Easter egg hunts, promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) history and allowing trail hunting on its land.

National Trust director-general Helen Ghosh said conservation would remain at the heart of the charity's work.

She added: "We've never lost sight of our core purpose. Conservation and access drives everything we do.

"I'm pleased to say we're now spending more money than at any time in our history on funding vital conservation work at the historic houses, countryside and coast we look after for the nation."

Mr Parker said the National Trust was "truly unique".

"There is no other organisation like it in the world, a charity that looks after historic homes, beautiful landscapes and coastline for the nation, forever," he said.

"We now have more members and visitors than at any time in its history, with a million people joining in just the last six years alone.

"That suggests the country's love affair with its heritage and great outdoors has never been stronger.

"In the busy, noisy world we now live in, perhaps it's never been more important to escape to the peace, beauty and inspiration of our places."

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