The GeoparkLIFE Project
GeoparkLIFE is a tourism for conservation programme established by the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark to seek a collaborative balance between the tourism interests and the conservation needs of the Geopark region.
To fund the projects work programme the Geopark applied for and was awarded EU LIFE funding of €1.1 million. Matching grant aid was provided by the projects stakeholders from the tourism and conservation fields;
- Clare County Council
- Geological Survey of Ireland,
- Failte Ireland,
- National Parks & Wildlife Service,
- National Monuments Service,
- Office of Public Works,
- Heritage Council,
- National University of Ireland Galway
- University College Dublin.
The project began in October 2012 and will be completed by December 2017 . It is steered by a committee of stakeholders that included the co-funders and representatives of tourism and conservation groups living and working in the Geopark.
The main objective of the programme was to seek ways to reconcile tourism development with the conservation of natural and cultural heritage which supports the priority of the European Union to promote the development of sustainable, responsible and high-quality tourism. This objective was approached in three ways;
- By working with tourism enterprises to enhance conservation actions and develop a sustainable approach to tourism.
- By working with tourism and conservation agencies to manage tourism at sites of high natural and cultural conservation value.
- By working with agencies, businesses and community groups to test tourism and conservation policy on the ground and to build their skills in working productively together in conservation management.
GeoparkLIFE agencies partnered with an existing business network with an interest in sustainable tourism. Working with the Burren Ecotourism Network, a local network of businesses encouraged a collective approach and provided a structure and platform for local businesses. The partnership developed a destination approach, a destination brand and a marketing strategy centered on the Geopark and it’s sustainable tourism approach.
- 100 businesses were trained in sustainable practices through GeoparkLIFE.
- The GeoparkLIFE programme secured the structure of the network, developed standards for its collective sustainable practices and enhanced its economic sustainability through marketing.
- The desired outcome for the network is a strong, independent and economically viable structure. Consultation and research informed the enhancement of its vision, management, membership, roles, functions, contributions and funding.
A Code of Practice for Sustainable Tourism was developed during the project which focuses on the the environmental, social and economic opportunities for businesses in the Geopark. The Code is adaptable to varied types and scales of businesses. It gives a common understanding of sustainable tourism practices to these businesses and can be transferred to other destinations. The Code of Practice actively encourages all tourism businesses in the region to get involved, to start the journey towards sustainability with small steps. The Code then designs a way for businesses to progress to higher levels. For more about the Code of Practice and working with tourism businesses at a destination level see our destination managers guide here
The partnership between the agencies and the Burren Ecotourism Network created a strong destination marketing strategy based on a destination brand rooted in sustainable practice. The Code of Practice standards emphasised the delivery of excellent accommodation, food, activities and heritage experiences.
2. Managing heritage sites
The Geopark contains a wide range of heritage sites and trails that attract thousands of coach and car bound visitors as well as geologists, archaeologists and botanists, historians, spiritualists, hikers and surfers. The ownership of these sites is either private or public, and their management is either nonexistent or quite varied in approach and effectiveness.
The aim of GeoparkLIFE was to develop a model of integrated and adaptive site management that can be transferred across a range of sites and circumstances. The GeoparkLIFE project worked with statutory agencies and private landowners to create practical ways of collaborating.
Research through the GeoparkLIFE project identified a need to obtain baseline data that recorded the current condition of natural and cultural heritage sites and the visitor use of these sites. Such data helped develop site specific adaptive management plans that focus on site conservation and an enhanced visitor experience. This initiated a more holistic approach to site management, looking at all of the impacts on a site including visitor behavior, than was previously applied.
The programme also produced a Heritage Sites and Trails Monitoring App; a system of monitoring sites and trails.
The result is an effective integrated management system that can be transferred to other sites and destinations, an online data collection and sharing system and a monitoring app for sites and trails, all incorporating ‘best practice’ approaches and practical actions.
3.Policy and skills
POLICY has a big influence on how tourism and conservation is managed. GeoparkLIFE investigated tourism and other policies, especially regulatory environmental and conservation policies. This aspect of the programme was carried out by UCD and was approached in
• Mapping policy; to gain an overview of the range of legislation and policies that are relevant to conservation management and sustainable tourism within the European Union and Council of Europe, national, regional and local levels.
• Perspectives of partners on the current policy framework; all the key policy actors were interviewed using a standardized structure. The interviews and actions provided a range of valuable insights and perspectives on the implementation of explicit, and also less well-defined or implicit policies in the Geopark.
• An Assessment of the main policy gaps looked to build on the perspectives of project partners and other stakeholders, to focus on policy needs and then to move to a more coherent policy framework.
Comparisons with the management approachs in areas that share similarities with the Geopark were used as best practice approach to implementing an effective policy framework.
SKILLS: EU and local government policies encourage a partnership approach to conserving local heritage. Such partnerships should include a range of local and agency stakeholders. However, it requires skills and resources to help these stakeholders work productively together.
GeoparkLIFE undertook to develop the skills base of stakeholders, in working together and in the understanding and management of conservation activities. This was done through a series of practical case studies where participants learned by doing. These case studies looked at policies, procedures and training needs for a range of conservation programmes. Guidelines and training supports have been developed directly from the ‘on the ground’ experiences of the participants.
What the project changed
The collaborative approach adopted by GeoparkLIFE has strengthened the ability to work together among the regions stakeholders. It has allowed the stakeholders to see each other as partners, to learn from each other, and to share knowledge, expertise and resources. The programme has provided the tools and frameworks that will allow the partnership to continue to work on the
balancing of tourism and conservation in the Geopark.
- Tourism Enterprises have developed a strong destination and networking approach and have gained in confidence in their businesses and in their ability to promote and care for the destination as a network working with agency partners. The Code of Practice has provided a framework, a focus and a practical approach for integrating sustainable tourism and conservation management into their daily operations. The Code and its supporting training programme provides environmental, social and economic gains for the businesses who engage with it.
- Integrated management tools like the Monitoring App, The Heritage Map Viewer and the Adaptive Management Templates support the framework of working together and provide heritage site managers and owners with the tools to gather the information needed to make informed decisions on site management and its wider impacts and to monitor the results of these decisions.
- Through practical applications, there is a greater understanding amongst state agencies, businesses and communities of the role of policy and governance. There is an increased desire to actively engage in the development of policy where its lack has created unsustainable practices. There is a much greater awareness of the absolute need to integrate conservation and tourism for the long term sustainability of the destination; this is being reflected in the future development plans for tourism in the region.
The Project Gains
- Increased and continuing collaboration, engagement and understanding between state agency and community stakeholders.
- A destination approach to sustainable tourism amongst tourism enterprises
- Award winning sustainable tourism products
- A large body of tourism enterprises implementing environmental practices
- A code of practice toolkit that generates environmental, social and economic gains for established and emerging tourism enterprises
- Heritage sites and trails monitoring and data management tools
- Transferable integrated management plan templates for heritage sites
- Policy and governance proposals for the future management of the Geopark as a sustainable destination.
- The integration of the sustainable tourism approach into the County Development Plan and the
upcoming Visitor Experience Development Plan for the Burren & Cliffs of Moher.
- International recognition through a series of prestigious awards.
Through the learnings of the project we have developed a suite of destination management tools, guides and case studies. These can be adapted and made fit-for-purpose in other destinations. The adaptation will require resources: GeoparkLIFE was fortunate to funding provided through EU LIFE and our partner agencies. Click here for more details
Measuring and monitoring have been core to the GeoparkLIFE project. At the outset of the project there was an absence of solid baseline data on the impacts tourism was having on our heritage sites, our landscape, and on our communities. We commissioned a number of reports and undertook several surveys and studies to provide us with a rounded view of the tourism pressures that exist in the Geopark. Click here for details on all the reports and studies carried out during the project.