The second aim of the Board is to increase the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the AONB, ensuring that these complement the conservation and enhancement of the area. The Cotswolds is a highly valued landscape by local people and the many millions who visit each year. We actively encourage people to gain a greater appreciation of the AONB and to explore and enjoy the landscape for themselves. Through a range of publications, information and interpretation materials, educational activities, guided walks and other events, we strive to encourage a greater connection between people and the landscape.
Key achievements of 2011/12 are:
- The European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas was presented to the Cotswolds AONB at the annual EUROPARC Conference in Germany. The international Charter is awarded to protected areas that can demonstrate they are supporting sustainable tourism that contributes to local economic development while conserving the area’s natural and cultural resources. The award will cover the period 2011 to 2016, during which time the Board will continue to work closely with the AONB’s Sustainable Tourism Partnership to help deliver the 5 year Sustainable Tourism plan for the AONB.
- In partnership with the Friends of the Cotswolds charity, the Board submitted a tender to Cotswold District Council to purchase the grade II* listed Old Prison at Northleach and develop a vibrant visitor centre there. As well as conserving and improving access to and interpretation of the former Northleach House of Correction and the Lloyd Baker Rural Life Collection, the new centre will act as a central hub for the Cotswolds AONB helping to deepen understanding and appreciation of the significance of this special landscape through volunteer-led hands-on activities and demonstrations, interactive interpretation and costumed story-telling. The bid has been backed by a major fundraising campaign led by the Friends of the Cotswolds.
- A brand new website aimed at helping more people explore and enjoy the Cotswolds was launched. The new site, www.escapetothecotswolds.org.uk, is designed to provide a range of information on outdoor activities and places to visit. It contains details of walking, cycling, horse riding, events and festivals, as well as information on public transport and local attractions including historic sites, towns and villages, nature reserves and museums. It also allows other organisations to upload and promote their own events in the Cotswolds AONB.
- A groundbreaking new initiative urging people to reconnect with their local landscapes was launched in October. 'Our Land' unites and celebrates the Cotswolds AONB and eight other protected landscapes in the South East of England with support by Government and funding of nearly £1million from the Rural Development Programme for England. Our Land centres around a new website - www.our-land.co.uk - which is developed and hosted by responsibletravel.com and which promotes sustainable tourism businesses who can demonstrate their passion and commitment to their local landscapes, environment and communities.
- We published and distributed 110,000 copies of the Cotswold Lion newspaper and 15,000 copies of Explore the Cotswolds by Public Transport and opened them up to advertisers for the first time, attracting over £1,500 worth of revenue.
- Our online activity increased significantly with a total 65,000 unique visits to our three websites, plus over 97,000 visits to the Cotswold Way website. Over 10,000 AONB walking and cycling routes were downloaded during the year. We also maintained our Cotswolds AONB facebook and twitter pages.
- We attracted over 5,000 people on to 294 guided walks led by our voluntary wardens across the AONB. This represents a 16% increase over the previous year.
- We worked with Cotswolds Tourism and West Oxfordshire District Council to launch the Cotswolds Green Scheme sustainable tourism initiative. Tourism businesses including hotels, B&Bs, attractions and campsites can join the free scheme by completing a self-assessment questionnaire which measures their commitment to environmental issues such as car-free tourism, use of local produce, nature and conservation, recycling and resource use, and energy efficiency.
- We hosted a workshop with the Local Government Group (LGG) entitled 'Health and the Natural Environment' in September. This was aimed at increasing knowledge and understanding of how the natural environment can contribute to improved health and wellbeing of communities and individuals, mapping existing assets and interventions that promote the use of the natural environment of the Cotswolds AONB for improving health and wellbeing, seek out further opportunities for developing pilot schemes.
- We celebrated 45 years of the AONB on 19 August with birthday celebrations at the Escape to the Cotswolds discovery centre. One of the Cotswolds AONB’s most famous residents who also turned 45 last year, Prime Minister David Cameron; sent us a message of goodwill.
Oxford primary school children enjoy day out in the Cotswolds
Thirty pupils from Rose Hill Primary School in Oxford enjoyed a day of fun and learning out of the classroom and in the Cotswolds countryside, as part of the Cotswold Voluntary Wardens' educational programme for the AONB.
The pupils, aged nine and ten years, visited the Old Farm in Dorn, Moreton-in-Marsh, to learn about and experience first-hand life on a traditional farm and find out where much of their food comes from. As part of their visit they saw farm animals, visited a field of wheat crop, identified trees and wildflowers plus watched a demonstration sheep shearing. Following the farm visit, the children were taken to see the Rollright Stones where they learned about the folklore and history surrounding the stones.
For many children, this visit was a rare opportunity to experience the countryside and give them an appreciation of farming, food production and the protection of wildlife in its natural habitat.