Countryside and Community Research Unit

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1 Additional income comprises consultancy income from providing advice on conservation management, miscellaneous sales, rents, supporters and adoption scheme, special events, lotteries and investment income.
At Arundel the restaurant and function operations have been targeted for growth. In London facility hire and catering contribute around one third of income, e.g. from weddings, christenings, conferences, corporate evening events, ‘breakfast in a hide’ and corporate days out. Both Arundel and London centres have a gift shop, a café, and function rooms, gallery space featuring wildlife art exhibitions as well as interpretation boards, interactive displays (the London centre has a children’s discovery centre) and education rooms. They also have trails and bird watching hides. In addition to a programme of educational events focusing on the environment and conservation there are daily warden or volunteer run guided tours and bird feeds. In London activities range from grey heron weekends, summer barbeques and night safaris to photography courses and a talk about the Thames whale in June 2006. Half term and holiday activities for young children include: Stirring the Waters, live hedgehog theatre, pond dipping, nature trail, Easter egg event and Bug Summer. The London Wetland Centre, through its community programme, is working to encourage visitors from minority groups and offers free admission and transport e.g. carers stayed overnight and made bat boxes. The London Centre also helps local organisations and schools with donations for raffle prizes and allows entry to the Variety Club free of charge.

6. Education

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust educational programme supports the English and Welsh National Curriculum (KS 1-4/5) and equivalent curricula in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Special programmes are available for GCSE, 'A' level and special needs. WWT provides:

  • Planning advice and preliminary visits for teachers;

  • INSET opportunities;

  • Reduced rates for pre-booked school and college groups;

  • Tailored programmes for special needs;

  • Support materials in a variety of printed and electronic media for on-site, classroom and local environmental work.

Education packs include the ‘Wise up to Wetlands’ programme and the website provides additional materials for class based learning. Downloadable lesson plans, datasets, Factfiles, and images about water etc.
A free entry for schools programme has also been piloted in Arundel.

J Naturums in Sweden

‘Naturum’ is a term applied in Sweden to facilities which correspond to ‘visitor centres’ found within areas of high nature conservation or landscape value in the UK. The function of a naturum is to describe, explain and increase awareness of the surrounding area’s natural values, and thus to inspire visitors to experience nature directly. They probably equate fairly well to England’s National Park Visitor Centres. A naturum usually consists of one of more buildings which generally offer information about the area’s natural features, recreational values and human history and the impact of people on the landscape. The name ‘naturums’ is a registered trademark of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, which has drawn up guidelines for the operation of naturums in Sweden and, ‘these guidelines indicate the rules that should apply at facilities authorised by the Agency to be called naturums and to use the special logotype’ (Naturvardsverket Rapport 5376).

Naturums generally are located close to attractive natural areas – either national parks or well-visited nature reserves, but they may also be located in other sites that are important for recreation, including near urban areas. The Guidelines state that , ‘exhibitions, programme activities and outdoor nature interpretation shall be offered in or near naturums’ and, that ‘they shall be staffed with well-educated personnel and maintain ample opening hours’, although, ‘the information and activities are directed primarily to members of the public with no special knowledge of natural history’. Naturums managed by the state have free entry. Also, interestingly, the guidelines state that construction methods, materials and building maintenance shall be environmentally-friendly.

The Swedish State owns and funds the building and operation of naturums through the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. They tend to be managed by country administrative boards. Those that fall outside this category may be owned and operated by municipalities, foundations and voluntary organisations.
In terms of monitoring and evaluation of naturum operations and activities, the owners of centres are responsible and findings are regularly reported to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency.
One example of a Naturum that has recently been redeveloped is the Naturum Dalarna in Naturreservatet Siljansnas.

Name of visitor centre

Naturum Dalarna

Description of location, e.g. Exmoor National Park; AONB

Naturreservatet Siljansnäs

Age of centre

Built 1983

Ownership of centre

National Environment Protection Board

  1. Characteristics of the area

The area is traditionally important for farming and forestry and tourism. It is also one of the most exploited parts of Sweden for mining – silver, copper, iron and lead. The area is accessible by a train from Stockholm to Leksand which is around 15 km from the centre, and there is an airport fairly close in Borlange.

2) Visitor characteristics and use of the area

Detailed information about visitors can be found from the tourist organisation on but an interviewee stated that there are many visitors from other countries, particularly Germany, Holland, Japan, Demark and USA. Local tourism is also strong with around 275,000 inhabitants in this county, many of whom stay at home during the summer months and like to make use of local attractions. There is a well-known restaurant close to the centre which receives around 50,000 visitors each year. School and educational trips are an important use of the centre.

  1. Management Arrangements

The National Environment Protection Board owns the building. The county Administration Board of Dalarna manages the naturum. A local company services it with personal facilities and there are conferences held in the building.
The building is 800 square metres divided equally between an exhibition area and confernce rooms. There are five exhibition rooms and one small film room that holds 25 people. The conference area is divided into two big (90 m squared) rooms and 3 smaller group rooms and one lobby. The reception is common for both the exhibition and conference part. There are four toilets for those with physical disability and three others and there are also some store rooms.
About 100 metres below the naturum is a very well known restaurant and 500 metres downhill from that is a hotel and restaurant. In terms of accommodation there are also possibilities for people to rent lodges.
There are three girls working as guides at the centre with different shifts. The manager would prefer to have at least two people working at a time but financial resources are a constraint.

  1. What is offered at the centre?

The centre is focused on providing environmental information, educational activities and some scientific information for what the interviewee described as ‘this first step’. There are innovative interactive activities and books and postcards are on sale. They hope to create a lot of ecotourism from this ‘platform’ over time.
Much has been written about the exhibition by journalists and it has been discussed on the radio. More information about it can be found at

There are plans to have guides in English, German and Swedish. There are also signposts on different places in Leksand and Siljansnas.

4) Other attractions and visitor centres within the area

There is another naturum in Dalarna around 200 km away which is called naturum Fulufjallet in the north western part of the county. There are also some more museums etc in Falun (60 km), Leksane (15 km), Mora (45 km), but these give different types of information from this naturum.

  1. Factors affecting sustainability of the centre

The centre is seen by an interviewee as being very sustainable into the longer term. However there is a perceived need for good guides who can answer questions about cultural and natural aspects of the area. The interviewee stated that they have ‘good social competence, and an interest in taking care of people from other parts of the world’. They need more economic resources for the future. There is a need for better signage in the area. The centre has been well promoted by the press who have portrayed it is impressive. There has been a high level of cooperation in the development of the centre project so the interviewee described this as a ‘very positive project’. High levels of participation and cooperation in the planning and development stages tend to enable long term social sustainability in terms of commitment.
Thomas Hansson who is employed by the Swedish Evironmental Protection Agency, and is in charge of the development of naturums across Sweden, has undertaken research into how naturums should be modernised (see under contacts for obtaining further information).

  1. Visitor Centre Issues, Feasibility Studies and Strategic Planning

4.1 This Chapter reports on some important research conducted by the Countryside Agency on visitor centres, and also reports in some detail on the strategic planning framework and some feasibility studies that have been undertaken along the Jurassic Coast where new centres are proposed (see earlier). It should be noted that feasibility studies for Merseyside should also be publicly available at the end of June 2006.

4.2 The Countryside Agency considered ‘The impact of visitor centres in rural areas’ (2000) and the findings from this research have been synthesised below to help identify what can be done to strengthen the long-term viability of visitor centres. The sample was derived from recommendations from Regional Tourist Boards and Countryside Agency offices. Twenty five of these were followed up by telephone to obtain details of function, content and management, and eight were selected to represent different types of centres in different locations.

Visitor Centre



Throughput p/a

Basingstoke Canal

Urban fringe

Local Trust


Durham Dales

Upland village

County & District Council


High Lodge

Lowland forest

Forest Enterprise


High Moorland

Upland village

National Park


SE Cornwall

Coastal resort

District Council


Sutton Bank

Rural route

National Park


Tower Knowe

Isolated lake

Water Company


Tyland Barn

Urban fringe

Wildlife Trust


4.3 Viability of rural visitor centres

Only three rural visitor centres out of eight researched by the Countryside Agency (2000) were making a profit: High Lodge, Tower Knowe and Tyland Barn and the last two benefited from shared overheads. The pooling of resources and sharing of overheads could help to cut costs where centre are located in close proximity. The table below shows what these centres contain and the opportunities they offer for different experiences.

High Lodge Visitor Centre - Brandon, Thetford Forest, Suffolk

In a forest setting. Popular as a base for outdoor recreation for families, including walking and cycling



Visitor numbers



Forest Enterprise


Information point, café, shop, interpretation, cycle hire, adventure playground, picnic area, forest maze, trails

Factors influencing profitability

A range of income sources including small, efficient café and shop, profitable events and car park charges

Tower Knowe Visitor Centre – Kielder Water, Northumberland

In an isolated, popular beauty spot, serving as a gateway and orientation point for the recreation resource of Kielder Water



Visitor numbers



Northumberland Water Ltd


Exhibition, shop, information desk, restaurant

Factors influencing profitability

High shop turnover and low staff costs, admissions and car park income. Shared overheads.

Tyland Barn Visitor Centre – Sandling, Kent

A visitor centre in conjunction with the headquarters of the Kent Wildlife Trust, providing interpretation and educational facilities relating to wildlife in Kent



Visitor numbers



Kent Wildlife Trust


Exhibition, shop, small café, function room, video room, classroom, picnic area and small grounds with outdoor displays

Factors influencing profitability

Use of volunteers. Income from café, shop and charging educational groups. Some overheads shared.

The research identified which visitor centre attributes visitors valued the most. Interestingly basic facilities were most valued such as toilets and parking.

Components of centres important to visitors

Aspects considered particularly important

% of non-local visitors



Car Parking


Visitor/tourist information


Leaflets on display


Staff knowledgeable about local area


Easy to get to


Displays on local area


Walking routes from the centre




Things to do outside




Items to buy made in the local area


Food in café from local area


Cycling routes from centre


Source: Countryside Agency, CRN 11, July 2000

4.4 It was concluded that in order to enhance their role and viability visitor centres should:

    a) Use staff to actively promote other local enterprises within a 10 mile radius and provide relevant information this may include other places of interest, accommodation e.g. National Parks Authority produce an accommodation guide, and transport e.g. The South East Cornwall Discovery Centre (Looe) has been important in promoting the Looe Valley Railway and other public transport routes. Although the survey of eight visitor centres found that only one quarter of all visitors had obtained information from where to go in the area from the centre.

  1. Seek additional income through a variety of means such as:

  • Car parking charges e.g. Tower Knowe (Kielder Water)

  • Admissions to exhibitions e.g. Tower Knowe (Kielder Water) collected £1 entrance fee using an honesty box

  • Admission charging for special events e.g. 2-3 acre grassy area at High Lodge (Thetford) has been used for high profile arts events including jazz concerts

  • Hiring out facilities for meetings of local interest groups e.g. Friends of Thetford Forest and land e.g. at Basingstoke Canal Centre (Mytchett) there is a 12 acre field hired by caravan club rallies for example

  • Income from leasing space for business and advisory services was important to the Durham Dales Centre whose users of training facilities included a local college of further education and a development agency

  • Incorporating a shop in the centre, although shops tended to achieve lower margins than cafés with small mark ups achieved on individual items – leaflets, guides, post cards and souvenirs were popular

  • Charging for group visits where educational services were provided e.g. school parties at Tyland Barn (Kent Wildlife Trust) and High Moorland Visitor Centre (Dartmoor) which had 435 school parties

  • Encourage donations if appropriate e.g. High Moorland Visitor Centre (Dartmoor) raised £6,000 pa in this way

  1. Strengthen the relationship with local enterprises through mutual familiarisation visits and, where appropriate, with local community organisations and schools e.g. Tyland Barn (Kent) the head quarters of the Kent Wildlife Trust attracted 140 education groups in 1998 around 5,000 children;

  2. Ensure that there is sufficient signposting (24% of visits to the eight rural centres surveyed were prompted by seeing the signs when passing) and adequate marketing of the centre;

  3. Ensure adequate information provision either by providing tourist information services or maintain a strong relationship with neighbouring tourist information centres;

  4. Provide additional features such as events, walking and cycling facilities and routes that can help generate and distribute visitor spending in the area;

  5. Incorporate a tea room/café, e.g. in Sutton Bank Visitor Centre (near Thirsk) the cafeteria operated as a franchise and pays rental along with an ice cream kiosk, (however, catering profitability is usually heavily affected by seasonality with profits in high season and losses at other times);

  6. Maximise the use of local staff and local materials, including crafts and foods for resale e.g. all the staff at Towe Knowe (Northumberland) were local making the centre a significant employer in a sparsely populated area, it also had dedicated displays for Northumbrian and Scottish products;

  7. Institute a regular process for checking service quality, visitor satisfaction and mechanisms for gathering local feedback to avoid being marginalized;

  8. Use volunteers rather than all paid staff, e.g. at The South East Cornwall Discovery Centre around 17 volunteers work as information assistants;

  9. Maximise visitor throughput, a critical mass of visitors is needed to achieve profitability; and,

  10. Develop walking and cycling trails from the centre where feasible:
  • Establish a series of trails starting from the centre of different lengths, difficulty and themes supported by information leaflets

  • Offer guided walks from the centre

  • Create routes that pass other local attractions and facilities to encourage further local spending and cross promotion opportunities.

4.5 Why people visit centres

    Specific reasons varied from centre to centre, but over one third of all non-group visitors said that they came just for ‘something to do’. In rural locations centres are often used as a base for walking and cycling. Other reasons for visiting typically included learning about the local environment and heritage, obtaining local information, having a meal or attending a specific event e.g. there is a regular programme of events at Tyland Barn Visitor Centre (Kent) such as pond dipping, wildlife study days and children’s activities. Local people may also use the centre for information, to purchase local gifts, have refreshment and as a place to visit with family and friends. Coach parties and other groups often use visitor centres as stop off points, as they seek accessible places to eat and shop for souvenirs.

4.6 The importance of location

The effective location of centres depends on objectives, but are usually either:

  1. in villages central to the local area e.g. Durham Dales (County Durham), High Moorland (Devon);

  2. strategic locations to intercept visitors e.g. Sutton Bank (Yorkshire), South East Cornwall Discovery Centre (Cornwall), Tower Knowe (Northumberland);

  3. dictated by access to sites e.g. Basingstoke Canal (Surrey), High Lodge (Suffolk);

  4. between town and country in the urban fringe relating to local demand e.g. Tyland Barn (Kent).

In order to maximise visitor throughput, centres should be strategically located on busy access routes (preferably accessible by public transport) or car parks, the Sutton Bank Visitor Centre (Near Thirsk, North Yorkshire) is adjacent to a busy route east from the M1/A1 to the Moors and coast and it catches a lot of passing traffic. The car park there has been extended to 200 spaces to encourage visitors to leave their cars and travel into the North York Moors National Park by bus or bike. The centre is a terminal for the Moors bus that operates throughout the national park and beyond. The park operated a cycle hire service from a van in the car park.

4.7 How non-local visitors found out about the centres

Many non-local visitors (45%) had visited the centre before which shows that repeat visits may form a key component of funds and consideration should be given as to how to strengthen this pattern. Signage was also important in directing passing visitors.

% non-local visitors

Been before


Saw the signs when passing


Suggestions by family/friends




Bought by someone else


Suggestion by accommodation/info centre etc.




Saw it on map


4.8 Increasing the economic benefit to the local area

This can be achieved by employing local staff, using local materials and influencing visitor spending. The largest contributory factor to total income retained in the area was when people living locally were directly employed by the centre (58% of total retained income). 32% of retained income was derived from visitors influenced to come to the location because of the existence of the centre then spending elsewhere in the local area. 5% was from purchases made by the centre itself in the local area. Additional income to the area can be generated from:

  1. Enterprise opportunities that had been developed in parallel with the centre for example retail craft units; or if a small area is rented out as a retail pitch e.g. Durham Dale Crafts an informal co-operative of local crafts people rented space at the Durham Dales Visitor Centre;

  2. Additional services/activities becoming established on site such as cycle hire and boat trips e.g. at High Lodge (Thetford) cycle hire is run as a separate family business under a concession; and boat trips at Basingstoke Canal Centre;

  3. Marketing large one-off events at the centre;

  4. Neighbouring businesses (e.g. restaurants and shops) that rely on the marginal extra income brought by visitors to the centre to maintain viability in Princetown on Dartmoor a café opened as a private business as a result of the nearby centre bringing new visitors, including coach parties, into the village;

  5. Additional spending by the visitors who may stay longer in the area as a result of visiting the centre and 65% of visitors have said that they were more likely to visit again because of their visit to the centre

  6. Promoting relevant local clubs and associations through publicity, displays, newsletters and activities at the centre, e.g. at Basingstoke Canal Centre this has led to canoe clubs acquiring new members

  7. Extended opening hours and providing a wet weather attraction out of season for local B&B guests will boost local tourism and can help to generate referrals e.g. High Moorland (Dartmoor).

It is noted that the proposals for the development of Langdon Hills Country Park (December 2005) include:

  1. An education and visitor centre – in part to encourage visits by education groups, workshops and courses based on Countryside Management & woodcrafts

  2. Café
  3. Retail outlet selling for example woodworking items made by the Friends of Langdon Hills such as bird boxes

  4. Meeting room facilities e.g. for use by the Basildon Natural History Society

Whilst the local resident visitor surveys were keen for the park to add:

  1. Visitor/education centre; Toilets; Nature trails; Arts events and concerts; Catering facilities; Learning activities for children.

    Similarly, the Canvey Heights Country Park Draft Business Plan (February 2006) highlighted Countryside Agency research (Towards a Country Park Renaissance) that showed that catering was the most financially rewarding source of revenue for country parks followed by car parking charges and entry fees.

    4.9 Along the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site a number of plans have been produced both strategically and for individual proposed centres. Findings and recommendations from these are presented below; some of the ideas may provide useful models for other areas such as the Thames Gateway.

    1. In relation to cooperation along the coast, the National History Museum’s scooping study on interpretation facilities along the Jurassic Coast emphasised the importance of visitor centres working together and joining up facilities and that this could be achieved by:

  • Making it clear that working as ‘One Team’ is essential to the long term success of the JCWHS

  • Enhancing communication and cooperation among stakeholders along the coast

  • Facilitating and encouraging skill sharing along the Coast

  • Creating a site-wide quality control structure for interpretation

  • Facilitating and encouraging coherent marketing along the coast

  • Developing a stakeholder Extranet to aid cooperative working.

4.11 Some of the lessons learned in Siida (Finland) in relation to organisations and individuals working in cooperation nationally and across international borders reinforced these recommendations. They address breaking down barriers such as lack of knowledge about each other and/or lack of time. The following approaches were commended:

  • Implementing joint marketing, staff exchange, exhibition exchanges

  • Instituting meetings where successes and failures are shared

  • Undertaking joint research e.g. visitor surveys

  • Pursuing joint sponsorship opportunities

  • Developing a common site on the Internet that is easy to get information from, with restricted area for visitor centre staff to access information about other visitor centres in the area and identify appropriate contacts. This should include a database of experience that members can access.

  • Twinning similar parks and visitor centres in the area

  • Channelling visitors to the area between attractions (protecting the environment, managing capacity flows and encouraging local spending).

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