Environmentally-friendly tourism is in safe hands, as Emily Martin reports...
The holiday park industry is big business. In a 2019 study, carried out by Frontline Consultants on behalf of the UK Caravan and Camping Alliance (UKCCA), it was found that in the UK alone, campsites and holiday parks generate £9.3bn in visitor spending and support 171,448 full-time employees. That accounts for 8% of the UK tourism industry overall and is a colossal figure everyone involved is surely keen to protect. But, as any big business does, it can come with a great big dirty footprint and, for business owners, it’s striking the balance between what makes their accountants happy, but also what’s environmentally something to be proud of that poses a perpetual challenge. Happily, the custodians of the gorgeous pockets of the UK, known as holiday parks, are proving they are more than up to the challenge.
It is impossible to go any further without mentioning the David Bellamy Awards which takes place every year and is one of the longest-running green tourism awards in the UK. It is truly seen as the benchmark for holiday parks who pride themselves on their green credentials. The late Mr Bellamy himself, who sadly died in 2019, remarked when he piloted the scheme in 1996, that his dream was to: “Upgrade all caravan parks to some sort of conservation status so that they can educate the visiting public and help them respect and care for the countryside.” A romantic notion indeed, but sometimes being ‘green’ has to be lower down the priorities list for a business ultimately focussed on making a profit, or does it? In 2007 there was a major revision of the judging criteria for award winners, done to acknowledge the increasing importance of energy saving and sustainability issues. With businesses cottoning on to the fact that caring about the environment is well worth it in order to preserve their incomes for the future, it’s been embraced by the industry in a myriad of ways. Rufus Bellamy, environmental adviser to the British Holiday and Home Parks Association, and David’s son, is now charged with continuing his father’s work. He says, “Many parks in Britain are blessed with abundantwildlife, and their owners are generally mindful of the need to manage their natural surroundings with sensitivity.” And Jon Boston of the BHPA says: “Holiday parks are commercial operations - they need to make a profit to stay in existence and keep their staff employed. “But these days, and especially during the pandemic, people want to get out into the countryside and discover places where they can get the benefits of fresh air and rural surroundings, so it’s actually a commercial investment to ensure parks are environmental oases.”
This all sounds lovely in theory. Idealistic, utopian holiday parks teaming with squirrels, fluttering with butterflies and leafy trees filled with birds is what we’d all hope for, but when going green costs money, how does it all work in reality? How much do holiday parks actually prioritise sustainability, and crucially how much of their budget will get allocated to overcoming the challenges? Kaz Mortimer is Group General Manager of Shorefield Holidays, a family owned business with eight parks across the south coast, and proud recipient of a Gold David Bellamy Award this year. Kay says: “Good green credentials are very important to our business.We have started the implementation of electric vehicles in our company fleet, as well as installing LED lighting to reduce light pollution and power consumption. “Our indoor swimming pool at Shorefield Country Park, is heated and runs on bio fuel and, where essential tree works are carried out, we re-use the chippings on our gardens.” FraserWatts, Operations Manager at Away Resorts comments: “Any but there is a commercial benefit when you invest in your micro-ecology environment and it’s something which parks are very keen to do, basically because customers like it and it encourages more customers.”
Zoe House of family owned Ladram Bay Holiday Park agrees: “Our family tries to make sustainability a key factor in all of our business decisions. “The David Bellamy Conservation Award Scheme incorporates many of our values, and we have been closely involved with it from the outset,” Zoe continues. “Perhaps one of its most vital roles is to demonstrate that parks such as ours can play a major part in protecting and enhancing the natural world, and at the same time create a more exciting and enjoyable place for people to visit. “One very successful recent project was to retrieve one ton of plastic waste washed up on our private beach. We showed the growing total on a rising column of sand on a special display board near the beach path, and children especially showed great enthusiasm to help us reach our target! “Other initiatives involve substantially greater cost, such as our decision to reduce by 33% Ladram Bay’s carbon footprint,” she continues. “This has included a £300,000 investment in a solar energy system which will prevent a massive 171 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually from entering the atmosphere.We have also expanded our fleet of all-electric vehicles, and plan to introduce car charging points for customers. “We don’t, of course, expect to gain commercially from such actions – but they all fit into the wider objective of providing the park with a sustainable future. This policy isn’t something we especially boast about to guests, but it’s amazing how many do take a genuine interest in our environmental work and are keen to hear about our plans. We have always felt privileged to be able to live and work in such a project we undertake, always has considerations for being environmentally and eco-friendly." added Zoe.
Without financial return on investment, is the appeal for businesses purely a desire to just…do something good? Jon Boston again: “David Bellamy himself was very keen on holiday parks publicising what they were doing to encourage people to go there, because that in turn would encourage the park to spend more on its environmental initiatives. “It’s not done for commercial reasons, it's a beautiful part of Devon, and putting something back into the region is its own reward.” Ladram Bay are not alone. This feeling that being green is simply the right thing to do, regardless of the investment it takes, is echoed widely. Henry Wild of Skelwith Fold caravan park comments:“Businesses, including holiday parks such as ours, will evaluate most new projects in terms of their cost and the likely payback period. “But this doesn’t work when weighing up investments intended to produce environmental benefits. They may, in the long term, make the park a more attractive or appealing proposition for holiday guests, but you would be hard pressed to see this reflected in the balance sheets.
Skelwith Fold go the extra mile with environmentally measures such as treating wastewater naturally by channelling it through specially cultivated beds of iris plants. Maintaining these beds is a costly year-round commitment, and it could be argued that simply using chemicals to make the water safe would be far cheaper. Henry says: “To my mind, sweet- scented irises provide a much more attractive outlook than an industrial treatment plant, and the system is more ecologically sound. “In a similar vein, our visitors greatly enjoy spotting the red squirrels and roe deer in our grounds. “But these animal numbers would probably be far fewer if we didn’t implement a labour-intensive winter- feeding programme, or spend time and money on creating the conditions and habitats which enable such species to flourish. “We choose to take such initiatives not for any financial gain, but so that we can have pride in a business which is impacting positively on the environment.” It’s certainly impressive and extremely heartening to find that the more you dig into the complex workings of holiday parks, the more intricate the environmental duty of care being practised really is. From tiny bee hotels to huge solar installations, it seems that the UK’s most celebrated and beautiful places are in very safe hands. HenryWild sums it up nicely: “I really don’t believe that business decisions should be entirely profit focussed. If this year has taught us anything, it is that quality of life is all about how we feel and our sense of wellbeing. “Connecting with nature benefits both, and if our park can play a small part in nudging this along, I’ll be perfectly happy!”