Newswise — Trekking, biking, scaling, and sailing. During our breaks from job or studies, we relish exploring the natural world. The terrain, in essence, plays a pivotal role in our vacations. With a view to promoting biodiversity and carbon sequestration, there is a drive to plant additional trees, particularly in highland zones like Howgill Fells. Howgill Fells, situated in the northwest of England, is renowned for its gentle, undulating, and unobstructed landscape. It is a favored spot for sightseers seeking outdoor activities, especially hiking. However, if the area were to be shrouded with more forests, how would it impact tourism?

"The significance of this study stems from the various viewpoints regarding forests in these frequently visited tourist spots," explains Postdoc Sara Vangerschov Iversen from the Department of Agroecology, who undertook research to evaluate the impact of planting more woodlands on tourists' inclination to visit Howgill Fells. However, as per the Postdoc, this could have been any elevated region in the UK.

Concerned about income  

The English highlands have primarily been categorized as "less favored regions" due to their food production constraints. "Less favored areas" is the EU classification for regions that face social and economic hardships.

"Uplands are primarily utilized for sheep farming, but this sector is undergoing changes and dwindling. Consequently, these regions are frequently deemed suitable for forestation," explains Sara Vangerschov Iversen.

Nonetheless, not everyone favors the notion of having more forests. The locals are apprehensive that an increase in woodland coverage will translate into a drop in tourism and earnings.

"Farmers in these regions have diversified their agricultural operations to encompass not only farming but also farm shops and B&Bs. In essence, there is a significant stake in the number of visitors to the area. Hence, it is crucial for the landscape managers to comprehend whether forestation has an adverse impact on the visitors," elucidates Sara Vangerschov Iversen.

No problem, as long as there is still a view from the top 

Around 500 tourists were involved in the study, in which the researchers explored whether the presence of more forests would influence their decision to visit an area like Howgill Fells.

"There are numerous opinions in the ongoing debate about whether to increase forestation or not. However, what we can provide here is more evidence based on direct feedback from the tourists. We have conversed with the visitors and investigated whether forests in these regions genuinely influence their destination preferences," states Sara Vangerschov Iversen.

The study involved comparing the existing woodland coverage of 1.5% in Howgill Fells to several potential scenarios, such as 10%, 25%, 50%, 75%, or 100% increases in forestation.

"Our survey's overarching finding is that augmenting forest coverage has no bearing on the tourists. The vast majority of participants stated that a rise in forestation would not affect their decision to visit the region. Conversely, we did observe a marginal decline in the number of individuals willing to visit as the amount of forestation increased, but even at the 75% and 100% scenarios, most of the respondents replied that it would make no difference to them," reports Sara Vangerschov Iversen.

Although the study indicates that tourists do not mind engaging in recreational activities in forests, it also highlights that they still prefer to enjoy the view from the mountain top.

Sara Vangerschov Iversen notes that the study involved a relatively small sample size, with approximately 500 tourists surveyed in a specific location in the UK. However, the study's emphasis was on the perspectives of tourists. The findings are valuable locally, providing evidence that forestation can be implemented without adversely affecting tourism. The study is also applicable to other upland areas across the UK, where there is a focus on woodland creation. The findings indicate that forestation is unlikely to have as significant an impact on tourism as previously feared.


More information  

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 data collection and analysis, the decision to publish, or the preparation of the manuscript.  

Conflict of interest: None  

Read more: The publication "Impacts of woodland planting on nature-based recreational tourism in upland Enland - a case study" is published in Landscape and Urban Planning. It is written by Sara Vangerschov Iversen, Naomi van der Velden, Ian Convery, Lois Mansfield, Chris Kjeldsen, Martin Hvarregaard Thorsøe and Claire D.S. Holt.

Journal Link: Landscape and Urban Planning