Re-Building a Conservation Organization: The National Trust for England and Wales in the 1960s

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 11:00 AM
Room: 423
Oral Presentation
Sean NIXON , University of Essex, Colchester, United Kingdom
The growth of conservation organisations was one of the more striking features of post-war social change in Britain. With their roots in late Victorian and Edwardian ideas of preservation and conservation, the membership of these organisations expanded markedly from the 1960s. The two biggest national organisations – the NT and RSPB – saw their combined memberships grow from just under 300,000 in the mid-1960s to over 5M by the turn of the century, making them the two largest conservation organisations in Europe. The increasing size of organisations like the NT and RSPB has given them greater influence as lobbyists in their dealings with policy makers at both the national and supra-national level. It has also, however, generated difficult questions about their relationship to their mass memberships and their internal forms of governance. In particular, it has forced these large conservation organisations to confront the nature of their organisational souls and to ask what kind of organisations they are and what kind of organisations they might become.  In this paper, I focus on the National Trust and the soul searching undertaken by the organisation in the late 1960s. As the organisation grew, disputes about the purposes, policy and management of the Trust emerged. These concerns prompted the NT to conduct a review, drawing on evidence from both inside and outside the organisation. Led by Sir Henry Benson, the subsequent Benson Report of 1968 proposed significant reforms to the organisational governance of the Trust, including the relationship between its ruling council, its full time officials, its volunteers and its members. The paper reflects on the source of these organisational reforms within existing management thinking and organisational theory and the model of organisational governance which the Report proposed, considering the family resemblances between the NT’s re-built organisational structure and that of other ‘conservation bureaucracies’.