As we launch our Green Traveller's Guide to the New Forest, Philippa Jacks meets with Anthony Climpson OBE, the man in charge of the New Forest, to hear how the management of the ancient forest park is at the forefront of sustainable tourism in the UK.
What makes a great place for tourism in England is a place where, as soon as you arrive, you know you're somewhere different. With the New Forest, it's physical, and it's spiritual too. There’s a sense of peace and tranquillity and renewal. It's one of the only places in the country where you don't have to go to a museum to see what England was like hundreds of years ago. [Three donkeys saunter past the window of the Beaulieu pub, mid-interview]. Look at that! Where else are you going to see that?
How many visitors come here? It's very hard to measure how many visitors we now get, but we estimate around 10 million 'days visited' each year. The vast majority of our visitors are couples. It's romantic, an exotic place where you can lose yourself. We used to get mainly older visitors but there’s lots of younger people coming now – that’s the area we want to grow. Do local people embrace tourism? When I started 20 years ago, I was told, "don't do any marketing - that'll bring more people". I wrote a report called Living With The Enemy that tried to help residents understand the benefits that tourism could bring. We’ve resolved a lot of the conflict now. We’ve launched a campaign called 'Brand New Forest', to encourage support of local businesses. The campaign helps local people to ‘see’ the visitor experience, and understand the economic contribution tourism makes. I see tourism as the new agriculture - it's a way of earning a living from the landscape without farming the landscape.
The opening of Lime Wood Hotel was one of the key turning points in the development of the New Forest.What have been turning points in the New Forest’s development? Creating the New Forest Tourism Association (NFTA) in 1989 to promote and manage the destination was crucial. We’ve seen RDAs (regional development agencies) and DMOs (destination marketing organisations) come and go, but the NFTA is still alive and kicking and growing stronger every minute. Secondly, the foot and mouth crisis in 2001, which was the first time there was a definite camaraderie between the tourism industry and the commoners. We stuck by the commoners and shut the forest to tourists, rather than killing all the animals. Third, the opening of Lime Wood Hotel in 2009 – it was such an exciting project. Are New Forest tourism businesses on board with sustainability? Yes - our Green Leaf accreditation scheme has been very successful, and we’re raising the bar each year, as it evolves to become the norm. It’s better to have 100% of suppliers doing 10% more, than to have 10% of suppliers doing 100% more. A lot of the green message is so desperate that it repels people, but once suppliers realise it’s good for business, they’re sold.
What does sustainability mean to you? A lot of people get very highfaluting about it but at it's most simple, it's taking account of people's interests. You have to show them that sustainability and consuming less is in their best interest. I used to drive at higher speeds, but now I drive at 50 mph and I consume half the diesel – it’s a very simple proposition. How geared-up for green travel is the New Forest? It’s a difficult issue – how do you get people to go around a place like this without a car? It’s so easy by car, and you can put so much stuff in it. But every hotel will pick you up from the train station, and Brockenhurst station is as well-served by trains as most cities in the country. The New Forest is also an excellent destination for cycling. There's nowhere else in England with 150 miles of interlinked cycle track and there are several cycle-hire places in the forest. One of my little dreams is to bring back pony and traps – it’s a great way to reinforce agriculture, create jobs, and calm traffic and it’s a lovely way to see the forest.
What’s your favourite time of year in the forest? Autumn and spring are exceptionally fulfilling. From the end of April, the colour of green is psychedelic for about a month. Last year we had the brightest autumn colours for 80 years here in the New Forest.
And where’s your favourite spot? Mark Ash Wood – a beech wood in the centre of the forest near Bolderwood. There’s a mile-wide crater with trees all around, and in autumn the beech leaves are five inches thick. It’s really magical and spooky, just amazing.
More information: thenewforest.co.uk/information