Countryside and Community Research Unit

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Countryside and Community Research Unit

RESEARCH ON VISITOR AND EDUCATION CENTRES: A METHODOLOGY FOR SOUTH ESSEX


DRAFT FINAL REPORT TO GREENGRID
Phase One: Scoping Study

Dr Amanda Wragg and



Jonathan Somper


CCRU

Dunholme Villa

The Park

Cheltenham

Gloucestershire

GL50 2QF
Tel: 01242 544083

www.glos.ac.uk/ccru
Executive Summary



Table of Contents
Page
1) Introduction: Context and Background………………………………4
2) Research aims, Methods and clarification of terms used……………..8
3) Presentation of case study cameos that could be investigated

further in Stage 2 of the research……………………………………..10


A) Blaenavon World Heritage Site, Wales………………… ……….10


  1. Jurassic Coast, South West England……………………………..17




  1. Aberdeenshire, Scotland………………………………………….21




  1. Merseyside………………………………………………………..30

Introducing cameos E and F……………………………………...37




  1. Northumberland…………………………………………….….....38

.
  1. Exmoor……………………………………………………..….....40





  1. The Forest of Marston Vale…………………………………..…..43




  1. The Veluwe (Holland)…………………………………….….…..49




  1. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust…………………………….…53




  1. Naturums in Sweden……………………………………………..56

4) Visitor Centre Issues, Strategic Planning and

Feasibility Studies…………………………………….……………...60
5) Key findings from Phase One of the Research…………………...….75
6) Recommendations for Phase Two………………………..………….79




1. Introduction: Context and Background

1.1 This research was conducted by the Countryside and Community Research Unit (CCRU) which is based in Gloucestershire University, Cheltenham. It comprises Phase One of a study on visitor centres and their sustainability, drawing on a number of case studies from the UK and elsewhere. The work has been undertaken for Greengrid which is a long term project partnership that aims to develop a network of open spaces and green links throughout Thames Gateway South Essex (TGSE). The Thames Gateway is a sub-region within the Eastern Region of England, set along the northern bank of the river Thames, and is composed of the five authorities of Basildon, Castle Point, Rochford, Southend-on-Sea, and Thurrock. It forms the largest urban area in the East of England with 12% of the region’s population (East of England Regional Assembly, 2004), and represents a challenge for urban regeneration.

1.2 The East of England has seen a dramatic reduction in habitats in recent years which has led to species decline, much of which has been as a result of the high pace of urban encroachment through housing and infrastructure development which has resulted in a high degree of habitat fragmentation. However, there are key BAP species existing within the Thames Gateway, for example, the Black Redstart, and a diverse range of insects. Within the Thames Gateway are many brownfield sites and areas of derelict land, and the area is facing development pressures. There is limited potential to develop many towns within their existing boundaries, although potential urban capacity has not been reached in all instances but there is pressure to build on Greenfield sites especially around economically dynamic towns close to London (East of England Regional Assembly, 2003). The Thames Gateway is one of three major growth areas proposed by Government within the region under the ‘Sustainable Communities Plan’, along with Milton Keynes and the London-Stansted-Cambridge corridor. The Thames Gateway’s/South Essex’s local development documents are providing for 19,350 net additional dwellings up to 2011 and for 24,450 net additional dwellings from 2011-2021 (East of England Regional Assembly, 2004). Their proposed distribution can be found in the East of England Plan. There are ‘zones of change’ around Thurrock, Basildon, Shell Haven and Rochford.

1.3 Despite urban encroachment it is noted that the East of England has a very attractive natural environment and since it is relatively flat there are good opportunities for promoting environmentally friendly forms of transport such as walking and cycling. There are some cycle routes that are linked to the National Sustrans Network such as ‘Right Tracks’ in Southminster, Essex which aims to enable people to explore their local countryside by bicycle and the East of England Plan states that the national cycle network should be completed (East of England Regional Assembly, 2004).

1.4 The environmental economy is of major importance in the East of England, supporting in the range of 108-180,000 jobs which represented 6-9% of regional employment in 1997 (East of England Regional Assembly, 2003). This sector includes a wide-ranging group of activities that depend on the region’s environmental resources linked to environmental improvement and management or use of environmental resources. Capitalising on opportunities to promote the Thames Gateway’s natural assets and encourage residents and visitors to use the countryside and appreciate its landscapes and biodiversity is therefore important in terms of contributing to the environmental economy (and business image of the region) and quality of life in the face of new housing development. Also, ‘the scope for developing the environment, technologies and environmental industries and tourism, as a cluster within Essex, should not be underestimated’ (http://www.tgessex.co.uk/pages.php?id=6). Thames Gateway South Essex Partnership is aiming to deliver access to cultural and sporting activities and heritage and to use the heritage as a focus for education. Part of this delivery is in establishing destination focal points for tourism including the natural environment, the river, and existing heritage sites, in some instances through establishing heritage and culture centres. Improved local transport should also aid accessibility of new development sites, for example, upgrading railway stations; extending Roscommon Way on Canvey Island; improving existing access routes to Canvey Island and upgrading bus stations and cycle routes.

    1. Environmental character underpins the tourism sector which is a major component of the regional economy (16.5 million visitor trips in 1997 which contributed £3.4 billion to the regional economy, East of England Regional Assembly, 2003). Visitors to the countryside are attracted to high environmental quality and opportunities to immerse themselves in nature, for example, through bird watching, walking, other outdoor pursuits and visits to nature reserves. Demand for outdoor leisure in the countryside is rising and leading to increased demand for visitor facilities such as visitor centres and access to areas of open space and different landscapes. It should be noted that Essex contains some Ramsar sites, AONBs and SSSIs, for example, mid-Essex Coast SPA and Orford Ness SAC. Habitat re-creation and restoration can further enhance the environmental economy and the East of England Plan stresses that provision of new woodlands should be a target area. The East of England Environment Strategy states that, ‘Access to, and understanding of, local green space should be improved, and the role of the voluntary sector in managing both our best and local sites promoted, and, that both small and large-scale initiatives should be encouraged that enhance biodiversity whilst providing employment, recreational opportunities, and economic returns’ (East of England Regional Assembly, 2003).





    1. Archaeological heritage is another resource that may attract visitors with 1800 archaeological sites and listed buildings and 24 Scheduled Ancient Monuments. There are also key high quality environment areas close to built up areas, for example, Mardyke Valley in Thurrock which is an ancient floodplain that the local public are largely unaware of, and Rainham Wennington and Eveley Marshes which is a SSSI of ancient marshland landscape purchased by RSPB from the Ministry of Defence. There are plans to transform the latter area into a world-class nature reserve visitor destination and to improve its biodiversity. There is also a new RSPB nature reserve in Basildon close to Pitsea and Wat Tyler Country Park (Vange Marshes) which has much potential for environmental enhancement and attraction of visitors.

1.7 In addition, the Regional Environment Strategy aims to encourage businesses to operate green travel plans which development plans for visitor centres, as businesses, should address. The Strategy also aims to increase the number of educational opportunities in the region, which could be one function of visitor centres, and something that Greengrid is addressing in that its educational potential is large in terms of aiming to connect all members of the public to elements of the natural environment.




    1. The East of England Plan emphasizes the need for environmental infrastructure to be developed to provide connected and substantial networks of accessible multi-functional green space in urban, urban fringe and adjacent countryside areas to service new communities in the sub-region by 2021. Essex County Council’s Community Strategy suggests that environmental education should be taught effectively in schools and outdoor learning centres and that valuable habitats should be linked by green corridors that could also serve as transport routes, also, that interest in culture and science should be encouraged (see also the Thames Gateway South Essex Business Plan for Transport, Steer Davies Gleave for Thames Gateway South Essex Transportation Delivery Board, 2005).





    1. Greengrid as a partnership has successfully attracted £5million of government funding for developments of projects on the ground over the next three years. This will be targeted at creation of greenways for cyclists, pedestrians, horse-riders and the disabled across the area; major improvements to marshland areas on the border with London and South of Basildon; improvement of access and landscape to military and industrial sites along the riverside and improvements at country parks.



    1. Within the UK as a whole there have been recent developments in ideas associated with green infrastructure planning and connecting green spaces around built-up areas. The ethos combines principles from landscape ecology and the importance of connectivity of species and habitats and the increasing policy emphasis on access for all, and diversity. Community Forests have already played an important role in revitalising areas around many of England’s towns and cities (Countryside Agency, 1999) and have proved valuable in terms of engaging local communities and for educational purposes and are promoted as a model for regeneration. Also, all boroughs outside London are obliged to develop new rights of way plans including for non-motorised transport for 2007 and there is increasing emphasis placed by the Government on greenways and ‘quiet lanes’ which are shared by different modes of transport. Green Infrastructure Planning is an approach being recognised generally within emerging planning policies at regional, sub-regional, and local levels and ‘must be based on a sound understanding of existing assets including location, size, functions, accessibility, user groups and intensity of use’ (Regional Spatial Strategy for the South-West), and can be defined as a the development of a network of multi-functional green space across a sub-region. It is set within, and contributes towards, a high quality natural and built environment and is required to deliver ‘liveability’ for communities. In the UK and US numerous principles for GI planning are proposed with the US having a more ecological focus and the UK being more socially-based, however, in both contexts linkages are seen as key (CCRU, 2006). There is also increasing interest for regional agencies to take-up the idea of the development of regional parks in the UK (Green Infrastructure North-West).





    1. Thus there has been growing momentum in relation to ecological connectivity within landscapes; access provision; environmental and outdoor education that is inclusive and links between economy and environment (for example, see Dillon et al, 2005). Also, planning for gateway areas has started to become more considered in terms of pointing the visitor to different attractions linked to heritage, access and recreation, learning activities and appreciation of the countryside and wildlife generally. The development of visitor facilities, both for local people to enjoy, and for tourists, is therefore being viewed as a key component of green infrastructure planning.




    1. Trends in tourism should be considered in terms of drivers that may affect visitor centres and their feasibility generally. The Henley Centre identified a number of significant trends that could have an impact on domestic tourism in 10 years time. These were:

  • The ‘experience economy’ – buying experiences and services not utilities

  • Wellbeing – health is becoming more important to people than wealth

  • Changing social structures – ageing population, higher divorce rates, reconstituted families, young adults staying in education and at home longer, more people living on their own etc.

  • Environmental impact – less damaging consumption and lifestyles

  • Urbanisation of culture – city as a place of pleasure as well as work

  • Networked society – through the Internet and mobile phones

  • Fragmentation of leisure offer – tailor-made to match specific tastes, preferences and requirements
  • Entitlement - cultural expression has mainly been in the arts and sports

Also, a seminar by Future Foundations Vision (December 2005) resulted in several scenarios being envisaged in relation to growing consumer types and relevance to domestic tourism, for example, a move towards ‘authenti-seeking’ which was said to be a trend away from conspicuous consumption towards the ‘real’ and ‘authentic’, for example, outdoor holidays, extreme sports, connecting with heritage, self-development opportunities, real food (traceable, local, organic, healthy). Secondly, the ‘singleton society’ (with a significant increase in one-person households, around a quarter of 25-40 year olds in the UK since three million people are now single) has resulted in an increase in holidays for groups of individuals with shared interests. Thirdly, an increase in numbers in a group that can be termed ‘new puritans’ who are against consumption and indulgence and make morally informed choices such as sustainable and ethical tourism.


    1.13 The way in which communication has changed has also affected the way in which people select holiday destinations and has implications for visitor centres and the way that they may be marketed as part of local identity. Over half of visitors to England obtain information about the destination they are travelling to from previous experience while advice from friends and family and the Internet are strong influences as presented in the table below. How to reach British consumers is an important consideration for those managing and funding visitor centres in terms of ensuring that they are marketed to a wide audience.




Sources of information when searching for/using a holiday destination in England (%)


Previous experience

50

Advice from friends and relatives

47

The Internet

46

Tourism brochures

27

Travel agents

23

Articles in newspapers and magazines

17

Accommodation guides

15

Television/radio programmes

11

Advertisements in newspapers/magazines

10

Television/radio advertisements

5

Items in the post

4

Source: VisitBritain




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