Membership of the National Trust, the leading guardian of our stately homes and countryside, has topped four million, the charity announced yesterday.
The astonishing figure may make apprehensive reading for the Government, currently the subject of a Trust campaign about proposed changes to the planning regime, because it means that NT members now total more than three times the membership of all the political parties combined.
Since August, the Trust has led the charge against proposals to shift the emphasis of the planning system from protecting the countryside to encouraging development and economic growth. Ministers have labelled critics of the draft reforms, which introduce a presumption in favour of development in planning disputes, as "left-wingers" and "semi-hysterical".
Semi-hysterical or not, more than 150,000 Trust members have signed a petition asking the Government to rethink its proposals, and the figure is rising every day.
The Trust looks after more than 300 historic houses, 600,000 acres of land and 700 miles of coastline, and it is now one of the biggest membership bodies in Britain and Europe's largest national conservation charity.
This is a far cry from the Trust's modest beginnings in 1895, when the Victorian philanthropist Octavia Hill set up a group to preserve Britain's heritage: by 1914 the Trust had just 670 members. But membership has soared steadily during the past 30 years, hitting two million in 1990 and three million in 2002.
The four million total now makes the Trust a third more populous than Wales (which reached three million this summer) and the heritage body is starting to rival New Zealand, which has a population of 4.3 million. The Trust now has more people than 109 of the 238 states or territories listed in the CIA World Factbook.Reuse content