Damp, subsidence and the death watch beetle - how climate change is having an impact on the region's National Trust properties
PUBLISHED: 13:43 07 May 2019 | UPDATED: 13:50 07 May 2019
© Justin Minns
Climate change is presenting new challenges for the National Trust in the way it looks after its historic buildings.
The trend towards more extreme weather events, such as an increase in rainfall and rising temperatures means problems of damp and cracked exteriors on properties are more widespread while the conditions are also increasing the risk of buildings subsiding, said the charity's regional director for the East of England, Paul Forecast, who oversees operations at some of the region's most iconic properties including Ickworth House and Lavenham Guildhall in Suffolk and the Blickling Estate in Norfolk.
“Climate change is having an impact on our properties,” he said.
“The warm, wet winters and hotter summers mean there are more problems of damp and erosion to the outside of our mansion properties. At the same time, if the ground around the properties gets waterlogged or dries out, there can be movement underneath them and subsidence can occur.”
Long dry spells followed by very heavy rainfall has also heightened the risk of water getting into properties or sudden flooding, which can cause damage to historic interiors and collections. At the Trust's Blickling Estate, Mr Forecast said they are using drones to inspect gutters and down-pipes more regularly to understand their condition and take action as early as possible.
According to the Met Office's most recent State of the UK Climate report, average temperatures over the last decade (2008-2017) have been 0.8 °C warmer than the 1961-1990 average, whilst there has also been 8% more rainfall and 6% more sunshine.
In contrast to last year's heatwave, UK summers have also been notably wetter over the most recent decade, with a 20% increase in rainfall compared to 1961-1990.
The changing climate has also led to a upturn in pest infestations in National Trust properties, according to Mr Forecast.
“The warmer weather has meant that insect and fungal pests such as the death watch beetle have become more active over the years - the death watch beetle is a particular problem because it bores into old timbers and eats the wood ,” he added.
Mr Forecast said the Trust is aware of the urgent problem of climate change and that the charity is working to reduce it carbon footprint, and currently obtains around half its energy from renewable sources.
These include solar panels on the roof of the visitor centre at Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge, a biomass boiler at Ickworth near Bury St Edmunds, which uses wood from the estate, and a lake source heat pump which transfers heat to the Trust's Blickling Estate. Mr Forecast said the organisation was also looking to reduce its energy consumption where possible by installing better insulation and low energy LED light bulbs.
How climate change is affecting pest infestations
When it comes to managing pests across the National Trust estate, Mr Forecast says climate change is having an impact.
“There are now more frequent insect cycles which are potentially going to lead to more insect damage to our collections especially textiles and anything organic,” he said.
“As the climate is warming, we have also found that species of insects from warmer climates are now more widespread in the UK - like the Guernsey carpet beetle and the Australian Spider beetle”
Mr Forecast said a new species of silverfish, which is more tolerant of drier humidities, has also appeared in the UK.
Silverfish are mainly a nuisance pest and indoors, they can cause property damage by chewing holes in clothing, upholstery and paper goods, such as wallpaper and books.
Climate change - an international heritage concern
Climate change is making its way up on the agenda for most people working with cultural heritage, according to Mr Forecast.
“It was mentioned in several papers presented at the international conference on preventive conservation I attended last September in Italy,” he said.
“One of the papers was about the natural cycle of decay and destruction. It was interesting to hear that in many countries, like the Philippines, there is a cultural acceptance that things don't last. The Philippines are the most affected country by natural disaster, according to the world index, and where once a heritage building might have stood, overnight they are reduced to a pile of rubble by typhoon or earthquake.
“The speaker said that this is getting worse as global warming generates more frequent and more severe natural disasters.”