If you’ve spent any time in the Suffolk countryside this summer it will come as no surprise that, in a recent East Anglian Daily Times Suffolk Says 2018 survey, people voted countryside and wildlife as the best thing about living in the county. What’s the betting it’s also one of the main reasons people come here for a short break or longer holiday?
The economic value of the region’s natural landscapes has been underlined by new figures which show Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) in Suffolk and north Essex are worth over £270 million to the tourism sector. Dedham Vale and Suffolk Coast & Heaths Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are nationally recognised as some of England’s finest landscapes, and the latest research shows a significant increase in the value of people coming on day-trips and staying overnight to enjoy quality food, drink and local attractions.
The AONB research puts the total value of tourism in 2017 in Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB – which takes in RSPB Minsmere and the National Trust’s Dunwich Heath – at more than £210 million, an increase in tourism income of 6.2 per cent compared with the last survey in 2015. In the Dedham Vale AONB, which incorporates Constable Country, the value is £62 million, up 13.3 per cent. Across both AONBs, the data shows more than 6,000 people are employed in the visitor economy, an increase of more than 440 full-time equivalent positions in two years. Visit Suffolk also recently published figures that show tourism is now worth over £2 billion to the county, with an increase in year-round trips and more spend per visit. The figures really demonstrate the worth of our nationally protected landscapes and it’s all very welcome news for our local economy. But it’s also good to hear Suffolk county councillor David Wood, chair of the Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB Partnership, stress that the aim is to encourage sustainable growth in tourism without degrading the natural beauty that attracts visitors in the first place.
If I seem to write about this a lot it’s probably because I believe it’s one of the most pressing issues for our county. Some might say we’ve been spoiled compared to some parts of Britain. Our indigenous population is relatively sparse and is boosted by tourists who have discovered the numerous attractions of the county only comparatively recently. But doesn’t that give us every reason to ensure that we protect, conserve and enhance our natural assets? Shouldn’t we learn from others’ experience?
Of course, tourism is not the only threat to our natural environment. Increasing development of the green fringes around market towns, villages and coastal resorts is changing the rural nature of the county. We are increasingly urbanised. And perhaps having areas that are protected by virtue of their outstanding natural beauty makes us think it won’t matter if we build on every green space in between. I hope not - that doesn’t sound particularly sustainable – or desirable to me.
Havergate Island, in the Suffolk Coasts & Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty