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National Trust looks forward to another 125 years safeguarding national treasures like Hatfield Forest

As the National Trust celebrates its 125th anniversary, Helen Hooker and Elizabeth Reeve, from the Hatfield Forest visitor welcome team, look back to the future...

It is 2020 and as we settle into the new decade at Hatfield Forest, the National Trust is celebrating 125 years of looking after beautiful natural and historic places for the nation.

The National Trust was founded in 1895 by three fascinating people, united in their determination to preserve and protect these special places for future generations. Our founders were Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley.

Octavia Hill, who was born in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, little more than a stone's throw from Hatfield Forest, was a social campaigner and philanthropist.

National Trust founders (28436906)
National Trust founders (28436906)

As well as being a campaigner for the National Trust she was a leading force behind the development of social housing and one of her concerns was the availability of open spaces for poor people.

She was a member of the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws in 1905. The ninth child of James Hill, a corn merchant and former banker, during her childhood her father was declared bankrupt and the family were forced to move. This no doubt influenced her later passions.

One of her co-founders, Sir Robert Hunter was a lawyer who used his legal acumen to help ensure the protection of open spaces, including many commons in London and Epping Forest. This brings us to another local connection, as Sir Edward North Buxton, saviour of Hatfield Forest in 1923, was also one of the first verderers, or guardians, of Epping Forest, hunting ground of Queen Elizabeth I.

National Trust founders (28436908)
National Trust founders (28436908)

The third of the National Trust's founders, Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, was based in the Lake District and actively campaigned to protect the countryside there. He also had literary connections, including Beatrix Potter, whose former home at Hill Top Farm is now owned by the National Trust.

The three founders were motivated by the increase in industrialisation in the late 19th century, which threatened ordinary people's way to connect with the natural world. They feared the rising tide of industry was in danger of gobbling up green spaces, which are so vital for our wellbeing.

Director-general of the National Trust, Hilary McGrady, said: "Fast-forward 125 years and we are grappling with similar challenges. Nature is being driven into crisis and green space could be a distant prospect for the next generation.

"The vision that our founders had seems particularly prescient now. They could not have known the scale of what their ambition would achieve. I think they would be proud of how far we have come, yet ambitious about how much further we can go."

As we look back at preservation work the National Trust has done, we must also consider how we as individuals can look after these special places. At Hatfield Forest the exceptionally wet winter weather has taken its muddy toll on our heavy clay soil.

We urge visitors, where possible, to save their visits for the summer months when the ground is better able to cope with heavy footfall. If you do visit the forest this month please do stay on the hard standing paths to give the ground much needed time to recover.

For more information about Hatfield Forest see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hatfield-forest/

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