Nature Tourism is a growth sector in our rural areas. It has several distinctive features that influence innovation: the tourism experience itself; the challenge of seasonality; the role of the voluntary sector; the prevalence of micro-enterprises and the prominence of farm tourism.
There is a growing market nationally for ‘health and well-being’ tourism, which fits what the Churnet Valley has to offer. It appeals to people who want to escape the stress of everyday life, eat healthily, experience the countryside and enjoy what it has to offer. They are looking for tranquillity, a relaxed pace, the ability to create a sense of contentment, simplicity, the chance to get close to nature, and experience unspoiled countryside. Additionally they seek relaxation enjoy physical activities; experience personal time and space; seek the provision of high quality food, preferably local, and seasonal; and enjoy high standards, overall quality and personal service.
The potential future demand for nature and health-tourism services is promising. The European Travel Commission is certain that health consciousness and related tourism activity will increase further. Agencies like Natural England and RSPB have developed strategies geared towards enticing us outdoors, by reconnecting us to the countryside and wildlife in order to improve our individual wellbeing. Active or activity holidays will increase in popularity, as will breaks that offer the chance to escape, relax and unwind. The demand for facilities that correspond to these types of holiday will be increasingly preferred. The Churnet Valley has indisputable strengths in the context of nature and health-tourism: with a significant proportion of high value, protected landscape; its close proximity to a substantial potential market; a wide range of things to see and do.
Countryside Agency research in 2005 into what tranquillity means to us revealed the following important factors: relative lack of presence of other people (compared to day to day living), a natural and open landscape, low noise levels and presence of natural water features such as rivers or lakes. Country walks, swimming, walking, horse riding and cycling are commonly identified as well-being activities. Research shows that farms feature extremely well, as do country inns, village cottages, and rural hotels - all with potential to provide the ideal accommodation.
There is substantial scope for rural tourism businesses to partner with others to offer a joined up holiday/short nature break product in the Churnet Valley. The Churnet Valley offers a variety of places and activities - something for almost everyone, and friendly, welcoming people. We have a range of tourism businesses, food and drink providers, farm attractions, which can serve this market sector. The nature and health tourism market is good for the environmental economy, secures environmental sustainability, whilst bringing income streams into the area.
The Hub’s ‘Food with A View’ programme will build on the Weaver Hills Project to make the connection between high quality locally farmed produce coupled with this attractive valley for a healthy holiday. The Hub’s Big Lottery Local Food Project, run between 2010 and 2011, promoted and encouraged the use of locally grown and produced food from farmers and small food producers based in Staffordshire, including those in CVLLP area. Through the project a Food Group has been set up: farmers, small food producers and food/tourism businesses, such as farm shops, small food retailers/delicatessans, B&Bs, hotels and restaurants; and community representatives. They will provide the core to drive the programme.
Fit to existing strategies and objectives
Lottery Food Group Project Research Weaver Hills 2009: to fulfil identified training need; promote and encourage use of locally produced foods; encourage production of conservational and environmentally sustainable practices and products.
European Travel Commission: tourism trends
Visitor Economy Strategy West Midlands 2008: ‘To deliver a high quality food and drink experience that captures the very best of the English countryside and for our shire and market towns to delight their visitors with a distinctive experience and a warm welcome’.
The project fits the VES objectives to attract more visitors; enhancing the WM for residents and visitors to create: ‘liveable’ and ‘visitable’ places; high standards of quality; sustainable development (environmentally, socially, and economically); and supporting local businesses and cultural life.
North Staffordshire Tourism Strategy: sections on marketing and branding rural north Staffordshire.
Local Economic Assessment for Staffordshire.
England’s rural areas: steps to release their economic potential. Report Rural Advocate 2007-8 and government response: Government welcomes Rural Advocate’s challenge to recognise the potential of rural areas and to focus on the opportunities they offer.
Natural England has targeted the Churnet valley as a priority area for the Higher Level Stewardship scheme on the grounds of the amount biodiversity, historic and access opportunities it represents.
Countryside Agency: Health tourism studies RASE: A future strategy for Rural Tourism Nature Tourism in the UK: Murray Simpson Oxford University
Comprehensive description of the project
The programme will provide a circular food and drink tour of varying lengths for walkers, linking to CVLLP trails where appropriate. On particular well publicised days the visitor will be able to combine a walk through unspoilt countryside with some of the best food and drink from the Churnet Valley and its surrounds. There will be stops for refreshment, and to sample a meal based mostly on the local produce of the Churnet Valley. At each stop the food will be washed down with local real ale, local wine, or other drink with a local connection, plus some locally bottled water for the journey. The walk will meander along footpaths, tracks and quiet lanes through unspoilt countryside with fine views. There may well be stiles, steep hills and rough tracks to navigate. There may be a chance to see craftsmen and women at work repairing field boundaries, stiles and hedges; or volunteers at work on the canal, all part of the CVLLP project. There will be information about the heritage, habitats and fauna and flora of the valley of interest to the visitors. The SRH’s food and drink group (the Food Club), will help manage the tourist trail.
It will encourage local businesses to produce ‘Churnet Valley’ packed lunches for walkers, riders, bikers etc, en route – to be available in B&Bs, hotels, shops, pubs, etc.
Information will include a map with suppliers along the route and will carry heritage, wildlife and conservation stories. We will circulate information for walkers, railway/canal and other visitors.
There will be Foraging Days laid on each year, to learn about what we can glean and harvest from the countryside.
SRH will work with ‘Taste of Staffordshire’, the Destination Management Partnership, and tourism organisations in order to achieve our objectives; and with the local community, our CVLLP partners and volunteers.
Audience: will be day and longer stay visitors; the tourism sector of the Churnet Valley Living Landscape Partnership area including farmers, accommodation providers and local food and drink producers; and conservation and education teams working within the programme.
Who will Benefit?
An ‘eco friendly’ tourist tour, informative and healthy. Managed and informed access to the countryside of the valley with information along the trails. The project will include soft messages to tourists to connect landscape features eg grass, hedges, boundary walls, with the area’s livestock farming and with locally produced foods.
Catering outlets will have new marketing for day visitors and longer stay visitors. It opens opportunity for local food producers and accommodation providers to showcase local agriculture and food & drink. Day visitors will be discouraged from bringing their own supplies by buying locally and thus contributing to the local economy. It will promote with encourage the purchase of locally produced foods, including meat from livestock grazed locally and the story of its origin. The project will particularly encourage the residents of Leek and Cheadle to make connections with the rural hinterland.
SRH will work closely with all CVLLP officers and volunteers to meet their outcomes and to ensure the success of ‘Food with A View’; and liaise with local communities/parishes to investigate spin off opportunities for them. It will ensure that responses, ideas and suggestions of the food connected businesses are transmitted and duly considered by the project team as the work evolves.
The programme will increase entrepreneurial activity within and outside traditional land based industries and open farm diversification opportunities. In due course we would hope to see new employment opportunities. The programme will improve marketing skills, strengthen business and product offers, as well as raise the profile of Churnet Valley and its unique character.
This project will be delivered by Staffordshire Rural Hub Ltd as a Delivery Partner. Payment will be made at up to 50% of expenditure in arrears, upon receipt of evidence of expenditure and upon meeting agreed milestones
The SRH Coordinator, supported by the SRH Board, will provide the project management, backroom support, administration, training etc.
Outputs and outcomes
The trail and opportunities it offers will enable farm tourism businesses to exploit their natural assets; enable managed access to the countryside; encourage day and staying tourists into the area.
- 1 eco food and drink tour created, complete with flyers and sign boards, created in conjunction with the CVLLP Interpretation project;
- minimum 6 days when there will be a food and drink event as part of the tour;
- 5 training and development days for Food Club and CVLLP participants;
- expansion of 1 co-operative network, the Food Group, as the driver of the programme;
- 6 foraging courses – the wild food walk. 60 in attendance;
- 10 food tourism outlets selling packed lunches for tourists;
- 1 out of area visit for Food Club members to study similar project (i.e. Shropshire);
- 1 eco food trail map, created with the interpretation project for visitors with suppliers listed.
- 5000 beneficiaries of Food Trail;
- 50 farm and local food based businesses benefit from added value to marketing and sales;
- participants on out of area study tour will benefit from enhanced awareness of local food schemes;
- 50 local farmers and food businesses actively engaged in the environmental economy of the area through the programme;
- managed visitor access to the valley and sensitive sites.
Staffordshire Rural Hub will continue to support farmer groups, promote training and actively encourage environmental economy amongst local landowners.
Risks and constraints
Risk: Key staff retention, technical skills and relationships with land managers need to be built up over time, staff recruitment and retention is therefore important. The Food Club volunteers do not engage with the programme.
Contingency planning: This project will be administered directly by the Staffordshire Rural Hub, who will get support from the officers employed directly to the Churnet Valley Living Landscape Partnership, particularly the Land Adviser (CVLLP 12); however, staff retention is not considered an issue. The Food Club is becoming established and key players are noted.
Risk: Lack of take up on the courses and activities through apathy or suspicion amongst the farming community and food producers.
Risk: Lack of visitors.
Contingency planning: This project has been conceived with Staffordshire Rural Hub specifically as they have the ‘ear’ of the agricultural community; however, it can still be difficult to engage people. Collaborative working with the SDMP will be maintained to ensure sympathetic promotion.
Post Project Failure Risks
Risk: abandonment of initiatives once CVLLP support and assistance has been removed is a very real issue by targeting it through the emphasis upon creating a economic return from the ecosystem services we are developing.
SRH will work with the landowner community to help them adjust to issues relating to climate change and help them to better understand how good management can help to buffer the wildlife important sites on their land from the results of climate change.
We will maintain high levels of biosecurity within their site work, particularly with reference of Phytothfera contagion between land holdings.
Innovate within the project: we will be looking to maximise local markets for farm products.
Follow Environmental Policy: Our Officer will be expected to adhere to the SRH Environmental Policy.