Conservation and nature tourism bringing economic boost to our countryside

More and more people are enjoying nature in the UK, bringing economic benefits to local communities. These are the findings of a new study from the RSPB looking at how conservation and nature tourism create jobs and bring money into local areas. The effects are being felt across the UK, from far-flung rural areas to urban fringes. The study’s authors have gathered data on nature tourism and conducted new research looking at how many jobs are supported directly and indirectly by nature reserves.

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The RSPB’s 200 reserves now attract two million visits a year. They help bring £66 million into their local communities, supporting 1,872 local jobs??an 87% increase since 2002. These findings complement the Government’s recent National Ecosystems Assessment (NEA), which highlighted the economic benefits conservation delivers through clean air and water, flood defence, carbon storage and wellbeing. The NEA shows that the natural environment is worth billions to our economy every year and conserving it makes sound economic sense.

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said: “We know that more and more people are discovering the amazing nature we have in the UK and a visit to a nature reserve is now a regular part of many family holidays. This is reflected in the growing popularity of television programmes like Springwatch and Countryfile and the rising membership of organisations like the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts.”

“This is fantastic for nature because it helps support a lot of important conservation work??but what we are beginning to discover is that it is also great for the local economy around a reserve, bringing tourism, money and jobs to the area. The rare wildlife habitats that are protected on nature reserves are often found in some very remote places??so the benefits they bring to rural communities can be very important.”

“This report comes at a time when the Government is looking at how it can aid economic recovery by reforming the planning system to make development easier. What we have shown here is that when we build on our green spaces, rather than boosting our economy we may be undermining it. Protecting nature brings its own financial rewards and a planning agenda that prioritises economic growth may sell us short.”

Research by Natural England shows that people travelling within England to enjoy nature increased by 10% between 2005 and 2009, despite general tourism trips declining by 9% in this period. The most recent figures showed nature tourism visits reached nearly three billion last year, with visitors spending an estimated £20.4 billion in the local area.

Similar research by Scottish Natural Heritage has revealed that nature-based tourism supports spending of £1.4 billion per year, and 39,000 jobs in Scotland. Visits to RSPB reserves grew 38%, from around 1.5 million to almost 2 million in the last five years. Over 1,000 local jobs were supported by tourism to RSPB reserves in 2009, three times the number that were supported in 2002.

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Reintroductions of charismatic species can also be a big draw for nature tourism. The return of the once-extinct White-tailed Eagle to the Isles of Mull and Skye now supports more than 150 local jobs while the reintroduction of Red Kites to Dumfries and Galloway has brought 20 new jobs to the area. As well as local businesses servicing tourists, such as pubs, hotels and restaurants, nature reserves create direct jobs on reserves, support local industry in the construction of visitor facilities and habitat management, and play host to farming lets where cattle and sheep graze reserve land.

The RSPB report Natural Foundations: Conservation and Local Employment across the UK focuses on ten case studies looking at the economic impact of reserves around the country. One of the RSPB’s most popular reserves at Minsmere in Suffolk, for example, supports 103 local jobs. It receives more than 80,000 visitors a year who spend an estimated £8million in the area, of which £2.9 million is attracted specifically by the reserve. The Mull of Galloway in southwest Scotland is one of the charity’s more remote reserves but it still manages to support 13 jobs and attracts 20,000 visitors who bring more than half a million pounds to the local economy.

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