On Wednesday, January 19, 2012, our group traveled via coach to Brecon Beacons, one of the 15 national parks in the United Kingdom. It was also the only day we’ve had rain since getting to the UK. Seems appropriate, right?
After several curving & winding roads, not to mention some nasty motion sickness, we were later told that these were some of the better roads in Wales. After finally making it to our dreary destination, we had lunch in the localized café located on the park grounds that strives to only serve local & sustainable cuisine. After our meal, we met our three lovely guides: Ron, Haley, & Sunita. We had a brief active interaction asking questions related to sustainability with our peers, with the goal of becoming aware of our own sustainable practices. The park’s biggest goal is to connect people to the landscape within the park.
After the activity, Sunita gave us roughly a 10-minute presentation on the history and about the park’s goals as a sustainable force. During this presentation, we learned that unlike in the US, people live on National Parks in the UK. Currently, 33,000 people – including children – live in Brecon Beacons, occupying 9,000 households. More than 90% of the land is used for farming, forestry, and tourism, which are the main industries of the park. These industries lead to 3.9 million visitors per year, and generate £200 million to the local economy.
In addition, the idea of sustainability was stressed in the presentation. The Sanford Principle is the main practice, which states that nature must always come first.
To get our feet wet in the practice of ecotourism, we went on a 1.5 hour hike with Ron & Haley. Thankfully, we were provided with weatherproof gear, as the rain was less than pleasant. On the unfortunate side, poor Mya left her inhaler in one of the raincoats, which has yet to be rescued. Once properly prepared, we were taken throughout the common area among the sheep! Fun fact, one million sheep call Brecon Beacons their home. Unfortunately (from my point of view), they were not up to cuddling.
In addition to the friendly sheep, the park is home to a biodiversity haven. The park’s management of the land over centuries has modified and encouraged the development of these habitats. While the environment of the national park is a semi-natural landscape, the natural systems but influenced by mankind’s management of the land. The fact that the Park is a “cultural landscape” is important to remember as the management of the Park’s environment involves close working with the people who live and work in the Park.
During our hike, we talked about some of the natural plant life growing, such as the rush bush, which if peeled properly, can be used as sustainable candlewicks. We also spoke about the negative aspects of ecotourism, but there were few and far between. The one major issue, that they are currently putting their heads together in order to solve, is the transportation needed in order to get to the park. This does not provide for a completely sustainable ecotourist site. However, the park is currently attempting to coordinate public/mass transit located within the boundaries of the park, which is rather massive.
Overall, we had a lovely stop in Brecon Beacons, and we would love to go back again and hopefully see it when there’s sun out! Thank you very much to our lovely guides and the rest of Brecon Beacons for having us :)