Blenheim Palace plans to charge car drivers higher entry fees in an attempt to encourage eco-friendly journeys as part of the Duke of Marlborough’s pledge to make his estate carbon negative.
The palace is planning to offer “deep discounts” on entry tickets to visitors who arrive by public transport and will offer to offset emissions from those who don’t as part of an effort to “weaponise every part” of the estate against climate change.
Dominic Hare, the chief executive of Blenheim, told The Telegraph that the estate wanted to go further than an “arbitrary” net zero target and to see how much carbon could be sequestered in its grounds.
“We are very blessed as a landed estate that, unlike many businesses, while it will take effort to make us properly carbon neutral… we could go a lot further. There are many communities around us who can’t make the same contribution so we’re determined to use every last square acre for positive carbon sequestering use,” Mr Hare said.
Blenheim plans to be carbon neutral by 2027, with a target beyond that date of aiming to sequester 30,000 tonnes of carbon a year. However, Mr Hare said that they were unsure what the upper limit might be and that he wanted to “see just how much carbon we can sequester”.
The UK’s per capita carbon emissions are around 5.4 tonnes per year.
Mr Hare said the drive behind the plan came from the Duke and his family, explaining: “The Duke has always been passionate about the countryside and the carbon benefits of that, and George, his son, is even more so.”
If the estate did nothing, said Mr Hare, the “next duke after the next duke” would look out on an estate of “parched soil” and ask “what on earth was grandaddy, daddy, doing leaving me this?”
The estate is going further than many heritage organisations, by including so-called “scope three” indirect emissions in its target, which counts things such as carbon dioxide produced by visitors driving to the Oxfordshire estate.
Emissions from visitor transport account for almost three-quarters of overall carbon emissions linked to the estate, according to Blenheim’s own figures.
Mr Hare said it was “wrong” to exclude such emissions from their net-zero targets, given that “we have a business model built on attracting people to come quite a long way to come and visit Blenheim and spend money”.
He said they were looking to offer “deep price discounts for those who are willing to come, with extra effort, by bus, bicycle, train, whatever”. For those unable to take public transport, Blenheim would offer to “directly” offset their emissions on the estate itself.
“If they can’t reduce their emissions we can help them do it,” he said.
While the route from Oxford City centre to the palace can be done easily using public transport, with one of three bus routes to Woodstock in operation every 30 minutes, it can prove more of a challenge when journeying from London.
Visitors travelling from the capital will face a journey time of roughly two hours and will need to take a train to Oxford or Hanborough then connect to Blenheim using various bus services followed by a walk to the main entrance. The journey by rail from other cities will require a connection at Reading, Didcot Parkway or Birmingham New Street.
Mr Hare said that the estate had begun trialling the idea in early 2020, but had to scrap it after just three weeks when the pandemic drove people away from public transport.