The Brecon Beacons is branded as ‘one of Britain’s breathing spaces’. As the Park Authority releases its new plan to promote the sustainable management of resources over the next 20 years, The Girl Outdoors looks at how the Park, which relies on visitors for much of its income, keeps a good balance between conservation and consumerism.
The Brecon Beacons in an iconic landscape – mountainous without being barren, rich and varied, accessible and beautiful. It is a jewel in Wales’ crown – The Visit Wales Visitor Survey of 2006 listed it as a key reason visitors travel to the country. But how is the Park accommodate these visitors whilst working towards a sustainable future?
Chief Executive, John Cook, says “We can and must plan for the long term when it comes to conserving and protecting the wider National Park environment. With this new Management Plan in place, we are setting new standards while supporting sustainable innovative development and renewable energy potential,”.
Nick Stewart, Sustainable Tourism Officer for the National Park, has a clear aim – to achieve a healthy balance between conservation and tourism. Not an easy task, especially when you consider that annually, the Park is visited by 3.8 million people, who spend £130 million in the local community over a total of 4.2 million days. That’s a lot of people walking the same footpaths, parking in the same car parks and frequenting the same little villages.
“Parks have two statutory duties. One is to conserve and enhance the landscape, the second is to enable enjoyment and understanding of the park’s special qualities. These are underpinned by a duty to look after the social and economic wellbeing of communities in and around the Park. As an authority, we have to balance those three elements,” says Nick.
ECONOMY V ECOLOGY
Financially, the local community relies heavily on visitors. STEAM figures indicate that tourism is worth £4000 a year to everyone who lives in the Park, and it is true that it has many benefits, including helping to maintain and create jobs, stimulating investment and sustaining services and facilities.
For this reason, the National Park Authority works to ensure that tourism brings as many positive aspects to the community as possible, whilst managing the impact of visitors.
A big part of Nick’s job is working on green tourist business schemes such as Collabor8, a project that works to develop and support sustainable green businesses. Local people are being encouraged to help make the Brecon Beacons a better place for people to visit and live in by developing new products and services and achieving a green-grading which guarantees they are environmentally responsible.
Nick’s aim is to help businesses achieve a green award and then employ this as a marketing tool, using their new green credentials to attract eco-conscious visitors. 21 businesses in the area are now graded by the green tourism scheme, on factors such as use of local food, waste management, energy and fair trade purchasing.
THE IMPACT OF TOURISM
The Park must also consider what major factors are impacting on the environment, and take action to control them. One plan being put in place is to monitor 15 different sustainable tourism indicators year on year to see if the park is having a negative impact on, for example, footpaths or ecologically sensitive areas.
An example of an area the Park keeps an eye on are the stunning waterfalls at Ystradfellte, ecologically at risk, but also very popular with gorge walkers. The nature of gorge walking is potentially conflictive with ecological priorities, but now the Park has created a gorge-walking code of conduct. Nick says the code “has been received very positively by visitors, who realise that the Beacons’ unspoilt environment is the reason people come in the first place, and thus needs protecting,”
Another major problem is traffic. 90% of visitors to the Park come by car, and equally, 90% of the environmental impact of tourism on the area stems from travel. Listen to Nick discuss how the Park combats traffic problems here:
So how to locals feel about visitors descending on the beautiful place in which they live?
James Gerard, who lives in Ystradfellte, says “The Authority does a good job, and it’s rare that we feel like there are too many tourists in the area. In winter you can walk for miles without seeing anyone. You do get the occasional lout dropping litter, but most visitors are dedicated walkers who are serious about protecting such a special place,”
The current sustainability plan states that by 2020 the area will be an exemplar of sustainable tourism development in protected areas, building on a strong sense of place, the natural and cultural heritage of the Brecon Beacons, and a reputation for quality.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether the Park can continue keeping the delicate balance between people and nature right, but for now, it looks as if the Park Authority is taking the great responsibility it has to protect one of the UK’s most beautiful areas seriously.
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