A visit to Threave Gardens near Castle Douglas in Dumfriesshire, one of the National Trust for Scotland’s many well-kept properties in the south of Scotland. Beautiful weather, the height of the summer, and the chance to explore a well-kept garden and the fully restored Threave House. As the NTS website even offers:

Visit the Countryside Centre to find out more about the estate’s wildlife and conservation work before setting off to explore, perhaps to Threave Castle or the bird hides overlooking the River Dee and Black Park Marsh, a Special Protection Area for breeding waders and wintering wildfowl. If you’re lucky you may even see otters and osprey fishing in the river. Just make sure you leave enough time for a cup of tea and a slice of home-made cake.

Sound wonderful? A perfect day out for the family, wouldn’t you say? That is, until it comes to paying entrance fees. Bearing in mind the respectable discounts offered for families, simple admission to the gardens costs an impressive £5 per adult. Access to Threave House in addition (by guided tour only) brings the ticket price up to £9. In order to visit the nearby Threave Castle a further £3.50 need be added to the day’s toll.

Of course, these are more extreme price figures, and some people may even consider these prices to be good value. Indeed for families of the just the right proportions, the discounted family ticket prices offered by the Trust do make travelling with a family much more affordable. But that’s besides the basic principle. According to the National Trust’s annual review financial summary for 2005-2006, admission fees account for just £12.4 million of the £337.2 million total revenues – just under 4%. This proportion is not as low in the case of the NTS, but the figure begs the question: how can they be so low? The answer is simple; the prices are set to make the costs of membership all that more inviting. The National Trust boasts of membership exceeding 3.4 million. From the NTS’ website:

The National Trust for Scotland is the conservation charity that protects and promotes Scotland’s natural and cultural heritage for present and future generations to enjoy. With over 270,000 members it is the largest conservation charity in Scotland and it depends for its support on donations, legacies, grants and membership subscriptions.

That massive membership cries testament to the injustice of the National Trusts’ admission fees. Claiming to be an organisation run for the benefit of everyone, in truth the Trusts offer the preservation of the nation’s gardens, collections, stately homes, castles and sundry for the benefit of those who can afford the membership costs. In principle, through the National Trust Acts 1907-1971 which grant the singular right of the charities to hold lands in perpetuum, by declaring them inalienable, every member of the nation has paid their dues to the Trusts, by the foregoing of the inheritance taxes on National Trust lands which often directly precipitated their acquisition in the first place.

Whilst few would quibble with the way in which the National Trust and the National Trust for Scotland conduct their business, the issue of funding is in need of some redress. The Trusts’ current position on admission fees actually limits access to certain sections of the public, for the sake of gaining increased revenues through membership fees. Although membership offers good value for money for the regular daytrippers, it does little to assuage the image of elitism the Trusts project to the poorer sections of society.