Hiking, cycling, climbing and boating. When we take a break from work or school, we like to get out in nature. In other words, the landscape plays an important role in our vacations. To promote biodiversity and carbon sequestration, there is a focus on planting more trees, particularly in mountainous areas such as Howgill Fells. Howgill Fells is located in North West England and is known for its soft, rolling and open landscape. This is a popular area for hikers looking for the outdoors and hill walking in particular. But how will tourism be affected if the area is to be covered with more forests?
“There are a lot of opinions about forests in these popular tourist areas, which is why we found this study important to conduct,” says postdoc Sarah Vangershov Iversen of the Department of Agroecology, who conducted research on how planting more forests affects tourists’ willingness to visited Howgill Fells, but according to the Postdoc it could have been any upland area in the UK.
Concerned about income
The English Highlands are largely defined as ‘disadvantaged areas’ as they are areas that face challenges in terms of food production. Less advantaged areas are the EU’s classification of socially and economically disadvantaged areas.
“The mountains are used for sheep farming, but it is an industry that is changing and in decline. Therefore, these areas are often perceived as ideal for creating forests,” says Sarah Vangershov Iversen.
However, not everyone is happy with the idea of more forests. There is concern among local people that more forests will mean fewer tourists, and fewer tourists mean lower profits.
“Farmers in these areas have developed their agribusinesses to include not only farming but also farm shops and B&Bs. In other words, there is a lot of interest in how many tourists come and visit the area. So it is also important for those who manage the landscape to understand whether the creation of forests negatively affects the people who come and visit,” explains Sarah Vangershov Iversen.
No problem as long as there is still a view from the top
Approximately 500 tourists took part in the study, in which researchers investigated whether more forests would play a role in their visit to an area such as Howgill Fells.
“There are many voices in this debate about more forests or not. What we can contribute here is more evidence directly from tourists. We talked to tourists and studied whether the forests in these areas actually influence their choice of destination,” says Sarah Vangershov Iversen.
In the study, the current state of 1.5% forest within Howgill Fells was compared to a number of scenarios for increasing forest by 10%, 25%, 50%, 75% or 100%
“The overall result of our study is that increasing forest cover does not affect tourists. The majority of them answered that the increased amount of forest would not affect whether they would visit the area. On the other hand, we can see that the number of people who would still visit decreases slightly as the planted forest increases, but even with the 75% and 100% scenarios, the majority of respondents still say it doesn’t matter to them.” says Sara Vangershov Iversen.
However, the survey shows that although tourists do not mind spending their vacation activities in the forest, they still prefer a view from the top of the mountain.
“This is a relatively small survey, we spoke to approx. 500 tourists in a specific location in the UK, but the focus is on the tourists’ voices. Locally, of course, this is a very beneficial result, here is proof that you can plant forests without negatively affecting tourism. This is also research that is useful in the rest of the UK, where there is a focus on creating forests in similar upland areas. Here is proof that this will not affect tourism as much as we feared,” says Sarah Vangershov Iversen.
Partners: Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University and University of Cumbria.
Funding: This study was supported by the Forestry Commission, UK (grant number CFS 7/16) and the University of Cumbria, UK. The organizations had no role in the design of the study, in the collection and analysis of data, the decision to publish, or the preparation of the manuscript.
Conflict of interest: None