Creating Interpretive Experience In A Conservation Area

Creating Interpretive Experience In A Conservation Area

Creating Interpretive Experiences in Ecotourism

In this post we look at How To Create An Interpretive Experience associated with an ecotourism experience within a Special Area of Conservation in Ireland.

Ecotourism, as defined by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, typically incorporates a feature of conservation that may be ecological, cultural, historical, archeaological and/or spiritual. The experience should seek to simultaneously immerse visitors in this feature and it’s characteristics whilst preserving it, thus creating a ‘sustainable experience‘.

Careful consideration need be taken to ensure the integrity of the site and features are not impacted by proposed use, nor the access to the features by local peoples affected. In essence, the conservation features should not be altered by the proposed activities, yet means for providing opportunities to immerse within the experience need to bring visitors into close contact with it for it to have any ‘interpretive value‘.

Clearly then, ensuring the sustainability of the conservation features requires considerable research, consultation and planning. It is essential that this process include and be informed by the Interpretive Theme of the experience.

Interpretive Themes vs Topics

An experience with an essence of conservation at it’s core typically can be found to have a main theme or indeed multiple themes that give meaning to, and reasons for the attitude of preservation of the feature(s). Themes go far beyond simple topics, and it has been shown by research and experience that learning and understanding are enhanced by the thematic approach (Ham, 1992), as opposed to the instructive, topic based approach.

An example of a topic may be: Nature and Health.

An example of a theme may be: After experiencing nature first hand, interacting with plants and animals personally, people begin to sense the importance of being in nature for their mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.

Thus to create an Interpretive experience the core themes of it must be identified and consensus reached on how best to communicate this to the visitor, while preserving the resource(s).

The concept of thematic interpretation was first proposed by Freeman Tilden in Interpreting Our Heritage (1957) and later by Dr. Grant W. Sharpe in his work, Interpreting the Environment (1976). Thematic Interpretation was later popularised by Dr. Sam H. Ham in Environmental Interpretation (1992).

The common perspective in these works is that thematic interpretation is a process that provokes the visitor or audience to think for themselves, thus developing a subjective understanding of the experience, as opposed to being instructed to accept a particular view point or set of ‘facts’.

In later years thematic interpretation has been more often referred to as thematic communication and adopted in programs aimed at altering environmental behaviours, occupational health and safety, risk assessment and communication and sustainable development.

How To Engage Visitors By Interpretation?

As discussed interpretation is not direct dissemination of facts and viewpoints, but a process of communication that assists visitors to understand the story or theme within the landscape, culture or special site they are visiting. Think ‘immersion in the experience’ as opposed to just talking about it.

The theme or story may be site and regionally specific, but may have further reaching implications to the region of origin of the visitor, and to the global community too! It’s easy to see then how an engaging interpretive experience may create considerable impact within the awareness of the visitor, the potential flow-on effects of which are incalculable.

When such an approach is used to share conservation and preservation themes, and other similar themes, the resulting impact is more personally engaging and thus more likely to remain within the awareness of the individual and groups.

As Sir David Attenborough puts it;


No one will protect what they don’t care about, and no-one cares about what they’ve never experienced.”


Typical ways visitors can be engaged in thematic interpretation is by way of walks, talks, tours, media, signage and art, all containing the messages of the theme(s). Furthermore, interactive experiences, particularly first hand of nature and animals, are very powerful experiences that create a strong personal link with the theme. In general, the more informal and fun the experience, the greater the impact of the theme.

Developing An Interpretive Experience


Some steps to take…

In this particular case we are talking about an Interpretive Trail we gained approval for from the National Parks and Wildlife Service in Ireland. The trail is located within a section of a Special Area of Conservation, Drummin Wood SAC 002181, registered under the EU Habitats Directive. The trail is part of the ecotourism experience we managed, Crann Og Eco Farm, Certified Gold Ecotourism Operator 2015 – 2019.

The approved trail, to be used as part of the ecotourism experience, forest school classes and guided nature therapy walks, is regarded as a blueprint project for ecotourism operators in Ireland. The trail essentially meanders through the conservation area on pre-existing ancient pathways and tracks, taking in numerous points of interest within the oak woodland. The experience is prefaced by, and used to promote the Leave No Trace Codes for Outdoor Conduct.

Determining the Themes

The starting point for the development of an interpretive experience is arriving at conscensus on the core theme(s) of the experience, and the perceived target audience of the interpretation. In this case the themes arose from years of experience engaging visitors in different activities on different scales.

Enhanced knowledge and training helped for the themes to become clear;

Re-connecting with nature and becoming aware of nature’s cycles and our inter-dependency with nature.

Disconnecting or ‘unplugging’ from information technology to slow down into the moment in nature to release stress, relax, and for benefits of emotional and physical health.

Finding ways to explore and have fun for children and parents together, naturally.

Conservation of nature and the rarity of bio-diverse habitats in Ireland. Discussions, exploration and tours of special area of conservation.

Ecotourism and it’s potential benefits to nature conservation.

Exploring edges and expanding limits of personal and familial experience and levels of comfort in a natural world setting.

Enhancing mental health through interacting with the natural world, stimulating the senses through multisensory experiences.

Conservation of resources and energy and the endless possibilities of the concepts of reduce, re-use and recycle.

Once the thematic content and aims of the interpretive experience have been determined, the means of communication and interaction, that is the content and structure, must be designed. Along with this, the techniques for facilitating the experience that best suit the themes, engaging facilitation for the target audience, and the overlying aims project, should be determined before moving into the application phase.

Attaining Regulatory Approval

In any interpretive experience there are likely to be organisations from which regulatory approval is necessary to conduct the proposed activity. Depending on the activity, it’s situation, the region and it’s laws and customs, this process may be lengthy and complex.

More than likely written submissions will be required to substantiate the claims of the proponents of the experience in terms of value of the interpretation to the site, visitors, the local community, the region and the overididing theme, of ecotourism and nature conservation in this particular case.

Written submissions should include, as a rule of thumb, details of potential impacts and how they will be managed, benefits to the community of the interpretive experience, levels of engagement and use of the site and technical monitoring of potential impacts. Periodic reporting is most likely to be a condition to approval of any such activity and thus it is a good idea to include committment to such reporting in the original submission or application.

It is a strong common sensical approach to propose higher than minimum standard levels of monitoring, management and reporting when seeking regulatory approval, as this demonstrates a very strong commitmment to conservation of the resource. It also sets a ‘tone’ of a high standard which enhances a stronger ethos within those facilitating the interpretation, which in turn reinforces the overlying aims of the theme(s).

Stakeholder Liaison

To make any submission for regulatory approval, and to conduct a thorough assessment to meet the requirements of ecotourism for example, liaison and possibly negotitation with local and regional stakeholders is essential.

It is impossible to create an ecotourism and indeed and interpretive experience involving sensitive resources without some degree of stakeholder involvement.

Particularly in developing regions, especially where foreign investment is involved in the experience, considerable scope exists for abuse of rights of local peoples and the inequitable consumption of resources as related to tourism activities.

In our view for any ecotourism venture and interpretive experience to be truly sustainable they must go beyond standards that talk more to ‘sustainable tourism development’ than they do to total sustainability.  For example we suggest;

  • Complete conservation of the natural, cultural, historical, archaeological and ethnographic resources. Anything less than complete preservation is not sustainable and is simply ‘lip service’.

  • Equitable business models that protect and enhance the lives of the regional and local stakeholders at all levels and without exception.

  • Business and operational models of which the main aim is complete sustainability of the natural interpretive resources in perpetuity, as opposed to ‘sustainable tourism business development’.  This must be inclusive of continued assessment demonstrating that the activity should be discontinued where applicable.

  • Restrictions on foreign ownership of any region’s ‘interpretive assets’ combined with capping of foriegn investment share in operational profits.

  • Monetary fund with standard conditions for access by all peoples of all regions for the development of truly sustainable experiences incorporating interpretive resources, such that the need for foreign investment is negated.

  • Complete resource consumption versus waste and pollution neutrality or better, without exception.

Identifying Key Experience and Training Needs

Once themes are determined it is the essential to determine what experience and potential training will be required by those facilitating the interpretive experience, to ensure the aims of the experience are attained.

Accummulating the identified experience and training can be a long process and require input from many sources and considerable financial resources. In addition, pilot programs are a recommended next phase to assess the efficacy of the training and the interpretive experience, aswell as the capabilities of those facilitating the interpretation.

Depending on legislation and insurance requirements, certification of facilitators may be required, usually where the experience involves children or some or more physical risk. This can add to the lead time to start-up of an interpretive experience and require additional financial resources.

Communication of The Experience Pre & Post Visit

Potential visitors must be able to understand what the interpretive experience offers in terms of connection with nature, education, conservation, recreation and how the experience benefits the environment and local community. The description and promotion the experience should be accurate, complete and reflect the nature and feel of the experience. Access to be made to additional information and interpretive resources that compliment and support the theme(s) and overlying aims.

Wherever possible proponents should endeavour to connect with other organisations, venues and networks of similar and complimentary content. Networking helps to further the aims of all members of that network and avail the potential visitors to create a multi faceted experience in the region.

In time it is likely the interpretive experience will be modified, taking on enhancements or potentially changes required as a result of observation of impacts of the interpretive activities. Communication of the evolution of the experience may be communicated to previous visitors through websites, email and social media to continue the process of education.

Development of Interpretive Materials

The process of determining the theme(s) of the interpretation will involve the identification of materials and techniques for the facilitation of the experience.

Additional resources are likely required for the creation of a range of different materials that may include multimedia (online & in case of a centre), maps, trails, viewing structures, protective enclosures/exclosures, trail markers, interactive equipment/props and educational material.

Furthermore, depending on the type of experience, relevant infrastructure and ‘setting’ may be required involving additional planning, time, resources and approval. Determining the interactive materials required feeds back into the Key Experience & Training stage, informing potential additional needs in this area.

Evaluation & Management

The efficacy of the interpretive experience and the effectiveness of impact management associated with the activites(s) must be assessed over time and against frequency of engagement.

Achieving the aims of the interpretation and the quantitative goals of the impact management require monitoring and experience feedback collation and assessment.

Without such information feedback loops it is impossible to determine if an experience is of the proposed value and if it should be continued.



Eco Certification Standards & Measures, What are they?

Eco Certification Standards & Measures, What are they?

Eco Certification Standards & Measures Explained

In Ireland ecotourism is overseen and certified by Ecotourism Ireland, formed and headed up by Mary Mulvey. This organisation audits and certifies a range of sustainable tourism venues and experiences from places like Crann Og Eco Farm to Inishbofin Island.

Ecotourism Ireland is one of 14 companies in the world recognised by The Global Sustainable Tourism Council. The Council provides the framework and criteria for ecotourism worldwide and has formulated these measures to be adaptable to local conditions with additional supplementary criteria for specific locations and activities.

Why Have Standards

Eco Certification Standards exist In order to promote a unified approach to managing sustainability and equitability in tourism development and operation worldwide. In the process to ensure the conservation of natural and cultural treasures while managing one of the fastest growing sectors in the world.

To create a simple recipe for all tourism development internationally that promotes the ethos of education and raising of awareness, informing policy development for governance, enterprise and other interests, monitoring and assessment and as the baseline for certification.

What Are the Standards

The GSTC developed criteria that consist of four main categories covering all aspects related to sustainable tourism that provide the basic framework for detailed measures;

  1. Demonstrate effective sustainable management
  2. Maximize social and economic benefits to the local community and minimize negative impacts
  3. Maximize benefits to cultural heritage and minimize negative impacts
  4. Maximize benefits to the environment and minimize negative impacts

As you can see these are broad categories, each of them incorporating large areas of study, consultation and assessmen

How to make these categories workable and achievable while remaining relevant internationally?

Decades of experience, research and consultation by the Council looked at the range of guidelines and standards implemented around the world by different countries and organisations. Consultation was conducted on every continent and in multiple languages whilst trying to arrive at a set of formulae that could be easily adapted to differing cultures, environments, laws and customs.

…the Criteria was designed to adhere to ISO codes of conduct and the standards-setting code of the ISEAL Alliance, the international body providing guidance for the development and management of sustainability standards for all sectors.” (GSTC)

Detailed Criteria for Certification of Ecotourism

The four main categories identified by the GSTC led to the development of eight detailed Certification Criteria Categories:

1. Environmentally Sustainable Practices

2. Natural Area Focus

3. Interpretation and Education

4. Contributing to Conservation

5. Benefiting local communities

6. Visitor Satisfaction

7. Responsible Marketing

8. Cultural respect and awareness

Each of these categories comprises a number of measures that countries, sectors and operators must attain in order to achieve certification by this system. Together they comprise what is defined as the minimum standard in approaching ‘social, environmental, cultural, and economic sustainability.’

Ecotourism Certification Measures


Environmentally Sustainable Practices

From the adoption of minimal impact codes to regulatory compliance and implementation of Sustainability Management Systems. The use of renewable energy technologies, non-motorised transport and promotion of environmentally friendly transport. Staff training and education regarding environmental impacts, and communication to the public of commitment to sustainable practices. Adoption of an energy and waste management plan, use and promotion of ethical and eco-labelled services and products.


Natural Area Focus

Work with local stakeholders and ensure that local access to sites of environmental, cultural , spiritual and historic sites are not impeded. Implementation of the Leave No Trace Codes of Conduct. That the experience involves personal experience of nature by the visitor while ensuring visitor to guide/staff ratios remain moderate. That a protected natural, cultural or historical area is included as part of the experience.


Interpretation and Education

Educational staff are appropriately trained and experienced. Interpretive experience plans are in place and inform design of the experience/program/product. Specific interest groups and demographics are catered to and interaction with other visitors and interest groups is incorporated into the experience. Information is provided to past and future visitors of improvements.


Contributing to Conservation

Active involvement in a payback schemes involving conservation and membership to conservation groups. Actively involved in local environmental project(s) and information events. Provide information on local flora, fauna and nature reserves. Tree planting programs and creation of natural habitats for endemic species.


Benefiting local communities

Work with the local community and support employment of local guides. Provide access to work experience and involve community members/groups in development of the experience/product. Encourage the purchase of local and organic foods. Membership of local and regional tourism business networks and support local businesses.


Visitor Satisfaction

Comply with all relevant legislation and monitor visitor satisfaction. Review by industry peers and professionals on an ongoing basis. Share insights gathered by visitor satisfaction feedback.


Responsible Marketing

Description and promotion of product is accurate and complete and reflects the nature and feel of the experience. Potential visitors to be informed as to what the experience offers them in terms of connection with nature, education, conservation, recreation and how the experience benefits the environment and local community. Minimise use of paper based promotion and utilise internet based methods or promotion and marketing, exclusively if possible. Develop and enhance networking and promotion of other ecotourism and conservation organisations, venues and networks.


Cultural respect and awareness

Local access to the experience and resources is not impeded by the operation. Information is provided on local heritage and foster where possible cross border and international cooperation with similar operators and networks.

High Level Of Certification Is A Great Achievement!


As you can see meeting all of the measures and criteria, which serve as the minimum standard, is no small or easy task for any operator, region or country

To achieve such standards requires development of a management system that allows for and fosters continued improvement and innovation. This in turn requires comprehensive monitoring and feedback loops across all categories of the criteria assessment program.

How can the small to medium sized operator or a region new to the concept of sustainable ecotourism hope to meet such standards? This is a good question that lands right in the middle of that blurry zone where tourism morphs into ecotourism. It raises lots of questions about what is really sustainable, and from what perspective?

This will be the subject of a Free Resource, designed to help the smaller operator or newcomer fast track to the cutting edge of ecotourism, that will be the subject of another post coming soon!

We will edit this post to add a link to it once it’s ready.



Why We Throttled Social Media?

Why We Throttled Social Media?

Why Throttle Social Media?

By throttle we mean limit the use of!

Why? To save time, enhance productivity, limit distraction and attention fragmentation, remove social media related anxiety, preserve health, be more active and have a life!

We limit ourselves to the use of LinkedIn to connect with professionals and potential projects, and an RSS feed on our website. We invest some time in networking with bloggers in specifically relevant fields and we contribute posts to our own small blog, which has just started. But that’s it, that’s where we draw the line!

But hey, that’s not to say that we think all social media is a waste of time, no! We do see its value in networking, dissemination of information and of course marketing. In fact in some of our project work it is an important component of developing a presence and positioning for a venue and/or product.

Social media was considered to be an important component in SEO for search rankings, but as Google recently explained, it is difficult to accurately determine identity with social media content, so does not currently factor into search algorithms for ranking. Social media does remain relevant though as a vehicle for driving qualified traffic to your site, building and positioning a brand and being an additional point of contact with potential customers.

Check out the guys over at Stone Temple Consulting Group discussing SEO and social media.


Our issue is with overuse of social media as with any other addictive behaviour, it has it’s detrimental effects, chronic and acute.

Do we travel?  Do we meet people?  Do we experience new things?

Do we have adventures?  Are we open minded?  Do we enjoy our lives?

Do we lead rewarding lives?  Are we informed?


The answer in all cases is a resounding YES!

All achieved without a social media profile or social media networking.

We used social media platforms, in the ‘early days’! We didn’t like it, we found the amount of time required to be invested interfered with our lives. We did not like the addictive characteristics we observed in its design. We didn’t like the background oscillation of anxiety that came with it’s use. We didn’t enjoy the repetitive distraction. We felt the effects of being mentally overstimulated and distracted away from the world outdoors, nature, fresh air, natural environments.

We saw it as a form of entertainment that we didn’t like. We tired quickly of watching rooms of friends communicate with each other through their devices, we tired of conversations being interupted by people’s need of a fix of their social media, we quickly tired of the modern posture, head down, eyes transfixed as they finger scrolled through their online life.

What did we notice when we deleted our social media profiles, way back then?

We saved time, yep time, quite alot of it!

We found that we don’t have time to maintain social media accounts explaining what we’re doing, when we’re doing it and posting photograpahs of it, because well, we’re too busy living it.

And we found that maintaining such profiles diligently, wouldn’t leave us enough time to do the things we wanted to do and what we commited to do for others.

We found, after the initial period of discontinued use which came with some passing feelings of anxiety and ‘what am I missing out on?’, that our background anxiety levels dropped away. This left space to reconnect with oneself and develop that inner relationship more, without the need of any external validation of our activities, choices, preferences, opinions and lifestyle.

There is a growing body of research demonstrating how social media use may be a major contributing factor in the rise of anxiety and depression in children, adolescents and adults alike.

There is also the physical impacts associated with the sedentary lifestyle associated with extensive use of screen interfaced technologies. The human body did not evolve to sit for prolonged periods, it evolved to move, and move alot!

Technology use sees many of us sitting for periods of time that are literally killing us! It is estimated that 90% of premature deaths worldwide are attributable to this modern habit of sitting too much. An overly sedentary lifestyle is shown to be connected to many chronic health conditions.

Check out Murat Dalkilinç’s TEDEx lesson “Why sitting is bad for you for a cool presentation on this matter.

A sedentary lifestyle diminishes concentration also by reducing blood and thus oxygen circulation to the brain. Concentration is actually aided by movement which enhances circulation. Too much sitting is a major factor in modern body posture related health issues such as spinal problems, circulation both blood and lymph, nervous system function and fat metabolising.

There are plenty of sources out there discussing the implications of sitting too much, here’s just a couple worth a look;

Why Sitting Down Destroys You | Roger Frampton – YouTube

Why Sitting Too Much Is Seriously Bad for Your Health – Authority

We also notice a bunch of effects when we have to engage in prolonged use of screen interface technologies, such as;

tiredness, sore eyes, anti social tendency and moodiness, over stimulation, anxiety, compelled to repeat/prolong the experience of social media engagement, reluctance to engage in outdoor activities, less restful sleep and decreased positivity.

We feel it is also important to point out that social media is not a fundamental technology in and of itself, it uses technology to deliver a product that is essentially entertainment. It is also a means of data mining private information of individuals and populations for selling on to marketers and promoters.

Social media companies employ attention engineers whose function is to make social media as addictive and compulsive as possible to maximise user engagement and optimise data aquisition and product/service promotion.

As with all things in life, social media use is ok in moderation, but give it some thought, do you really know why you spend the time and energy you do using it? Give it some real deep thought, go inside your choices and behaviours, do you really know what motivates them? Can this be extended to other aspects of our lives? You bet ya!

What could you be doing with your time if you didn’t spend as much time online?

Check out the work by Dr Cal Newport on this subject and others.  Cal is a professor at Geogretwon University.  In his latest book  Deep Work, author and professor Cal Newport flips the narrative on impact in a connected age.

All images in this post are copyright Paul King or were purchased from



Creating Awesome Nature Experiences

Creating Awesome Nature Experiences

Welcome to Eco Freelance!


We help good people create and manage experiences, venues and projects that support wellness, natural health, return to nature, conservation and education.

Retreats, ecotourism, self discovery and nature affinity are what we do, providing wise, contemporary and professional support for such endeavours to thrive.  We are Paul King and Merle Diekmann, welcome to our new website launched April 11th 2017.

These are types of projects we love to get awesome for:

  • Back to nature experiences
  • Ecotourism, sustainable & responsible tourism
  • Nature retreats
  • Outdoor & survival skills training
  • Meditation and yoga retreats & venues
  • Spiritual retreat centres
  • Wilderness adventures
  • Holistic health training venues
  • Wellbeing and wellness retreats
  • Environmental conservation
  • Spas & health resorts
  • Voluntourism & experiential tourism

Alternative ways of living are a massive interest for us, to explore different ways of relating to the world, working, contributing and growing.


For us it doesn’t have to be the standard way of doing things, in fact, the more different the better in our book.  To be mobile and adaptable allows us freedom to explore.  We like to ‘put down roots’ for interesting long term projects in beautiful environments too!

Our Mission Statement

The wellbeing of humanity and viability of earth and all its species is dependent on all people re-establishing a healthy relationship with the natural world.  To be eco-tourists and conservationists is not enough, we all must realise our interdependence with nature.

To this end we wish only to support and promote projects, individuals, groups and communities engaged in providing experiences and places to rediscover this affinity.  By contributing the skills, experience and dedication for such ventures to thrive. It is our work, our vocation and life.

Our Journey To Here

We love nature obviously, and exploring this big wide world.  Leaning towards the quiet zen like approach we are our happiest when in nature and being part of experiences that bring others into connection with the world around us and the deeper experience of self

We have travelled different paths encompassing: environmental work, wellness therapies, meditation, retreats, construction, project management, consulting, nature and survival skills, broad travel and cultural exploration, extensive volunteering and an innate connection to nature.

Our respective journeys of experiential research have shown us that we are here to support humanity’s return back to nature and self.

Custom Collaborations

Your project is unusual, it’s niche, extraordinary.  We know that projects, experiences and venues like yours are altruistic in nature and need support of a similar ethos.

Thus we are interested in collaborations combining:

  • hire payment
  • revenue sharing in onsite project collaboration/partnership
  • on project living arrangements
  • on-site project management
  • services and experience exchange and barter
  • community participation
  • project caretaking, short to long term
  • travel adventures

Please enjoy our website, follow the links for an Overview, Services we offer, About Us, Collaborate with Us.

Contact Us today to chat about your needs, your ideas and inspirations.  We look forward to collaborating with like minded folk!



Practical Guide: What is Ecotourism?

Practical Guide: What is Ecotourism?

Ecotourism: What’s the story?

Ecotourism is a nature based form of speciality travel defined by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) as “responsible travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people.”

In 2002, The International Year of Ecotourism, The Quebec Declaration was established, suggesting five criteria by which to standardize the definition of ecotourism:

  • nature-based product
  • minimal impact management
  • environmental education
  • contribution to conservation
  • contribution to community

The Global Ecotourism Network define ecotourism as:

Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that:

  • conserve the environment,

  • socially and economically sustains the well-being of the local people, and

  • creates knowledge and understanding through interpretation and education of all involved (including staff, travelers, and community residents).

It is also their view that

“The label ecotourism is often applied to tourism activities that fail to meet the definition and the basic principles behind it.”

and that Ecotourism is:

  • non-consumptive/non-extractive

  • creates an ecological conscience

  • hold eco-centric values and ethics in relation to nature

  • good for both visitors and visited


The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) define sustainable tourism as:

Sustainable tourism takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities. Sustainable tourism should make optimal use of environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development, maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity; respect the sociocultural authenticity of host communities, conserve their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values, and contribute to intercultural understanding and tolerance; ensure viable, long-term economic operations, providing socioeconomic benefits to all stakeholders that are fairly distributed, including stable employment and income-earning opportunities and social services to host communities, and contributing to poverty alleviation.


Common Terms Confused with Ecotourism

The International Ecotourism Society furthermore define other terms that ecotourism is not, in the Ecotourism Fact Sheet of 2007:

Adventure tourism:  A form of nature-based tourism that incorporates an element of risk, higher levels of physical exertion, and the need for specialized skill.

Geotourism:  Tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place-its environment, heritage, aesthetics, and culture and the well-being of its residents.

Mass tourism:  Large-scale tourism, typically associated with ‘sea, sand, sun’ resorts and characteristics such as transnational ownership, minimal direct economic benefit to destination communities, seasonality and package tours.

Nature-based tourism:  Any form of tourism that relies primarily on the natural environment for its attractions or settings.

Pro-poor tourism: Tourism that results in increased net benefit for the poor people.

Responsible tourism:  Tourism that maximizes the benefits to local communities, minimizes negative social or environmental impacts, and helps local people conserve fragile cultures and habitats or species.

Sustainable tourism:  Tourism that meets the needs of present tourist and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunities for the future.


There is a whole bunch of other definitions also, three of which below resonate the most with us:


Nature-based tourism that involves education and interpretation of the natural

environment and is managed to be ecologically sustainable.

Commonwealth Department of Tourism, 1992.

A sustainable form of natural resource based tourism that focuses primarily on

experiencing and learning about nature, and which is ethically managed to be

low impact, non-consumptive, and locally oriented (control, benefits and scale).

It typically occurs in natural areas, and should contribute to the conservation

and preservation of such areas.

David Fennell, 1999.

Ecotourism can contribute to both conservation and development and involves,

as a minimum, positive synergistic relationships between tourism, biodiversity

and local people, facilitated by appropriate management.

Ross & Wall, 1999.

What do You think?


We feel that the GSTC definition is perhaps the most all encompassing definition, while acknowledging that it isn’t a definition for ecotourism as such, and is rather cumbersome.

The Global Ecotourism Network definitions are certainly very workable and to the point, and we quite like Fennell’s definition.

With the plethora of definitions and perspectives certain questions arise:

  • Is ecotourism actually ecologically sustainable?
  • Is ecotourism a conservation oriented movement, a philosophy, or a product with excellent marketing and branding strategies?
  • Is ecologically sustainable tourism realistic or achievable?
  • How can ecologically AND economically sustainable tourism exist or operate where foreign ownership prevails?
  • Who or what is the actual driving force behind ecotourism development and who actually benefits?
  • Can ecotourism be truly ethical?

We feel that ecotourism is possible and that it can be ecologically sustainable yes.  BUT we feel strongly that parts of the ‘industry’ could be seen to be guilty of ‘green washing’ in many respects and that authentic ecotourism, that is, completely ecologically and economically sustainable at the local level, is not the norm.

Do we have all the answers and solutions to the questions raised?  No of course not!

But we do have some suggestions and these will form the basis of an additional post in the not too distant future.



Amazing Facts About Nature Connection

Amazing Facts About Nature Connection

The Power of Nature

We humans are a part of all the natural life on this planet, we come from nature.

Throughout evolution we have always been in and with nature, in fact we are inseparable from our environment.  No organism can exist without an environment.  We rely on our environment, nature, for food, water, air, shelter and energy.  Without nature, we can not exist.

But the modern lifestye has distracted us from a healthy relationship to the natural world and our consumption habits and addictions are altering and destroying our environment, the nature on which we rely for our existence. Most of us are never without our smartphones or far from an internet connection

We are seemingly more networked and connected with each other than ever before, but are we really?  Instant access to information is prevalent in modern society.  But information is not neccessarily knowledge, or wisdom.

It is clear, and there is plenty of research out there to demonstrate it, that our preoccupation and distraction with information technology and modern consumerism are major factors in our diminishing relationship to the natural world and thus ourselves.

This diminishing affinity with nature has serious effects on our health, wellbeing and happiness.

Nature Deficit Disorders

American author Richard Louv says in his book The Nature Principle, people living in high-tech societies often suffer from what he calls “nature deficit disorder.

As described by Louv, this is not a medical diagnosis, but a description of the human costs of alienation from nature. These costs include: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.

Benefits of Being in Nature

During the last two decades more and more research studies have demonstrated the benefits of reconnecting with nature.

Here are some of them:

  • Walking in nature may reduce the risk of mental illness.

Participants who went on a 90-min walk through a natural environment […] showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment.


  • Experiencing nature decreases rumination and anxiety and improves cognitive abilities.

Nature experience produced clear benefits for affect (e.g., decrease in anxiety and rumination).

Nature experience produced some benefits for cognition (complex working memory span task).


  • Certain microbes present in soil may increase serotonin production, making you happier and relaxed.

Mycobacterium vaccae is the substance under study and has indeed been found to mirror the effect on neurons that drugs like Prozac provide. The bacterium is found in soil and may stimulate serotonin production, which makes you relaxed and happier.

Lack of serotonin has been linked to depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and bipolar problems. The bacterium appears to be a natural antidepressant in soil and has no adverse health effects.

Sources: “Identification of an Immune-Responsive Mesolimbocortical Serotonergic System: Potential Role in Regulation of Emotional Behavior,” by Christopher Lowry et al., published online on March 28 in Neuroscience.


  • Nature contact may enhance the wellbeing of individuals experiencing chronic mental, emotional and physical health difficulties.

Evidence demonstrates that separately, physical activity, social connection, and contact with nature enhance human health and well-being. The case example illustrates how ‘active’, ‘social’ and ‘adventurous’ contact with nature may be combined within a treatment intervention to protect and enhance the health of individuals experiencing chronic mental, emotional and physical health difficulties.

Source: Health and well-being naturally: ‘contact with nature’ in health promotion for targeted individuals, communities and populations.

  • Spending time outdoors is associated with greater vitality.

Being outdoors was associated with greater vitality, a relation that was mediated by the presence of natural elements.

Excerpt from our work with Nature Schooling Ireland:

With the rapid and all encompassing emergence of consumer technology in the last 20 years, many disturbing childhood trends have also appeared: obesity, attention disorders, behavioural problems and depression are rising fast.

Research clearly indicates that Nature Connection is essential for children to develop physical, mental and emotional health.

Howard Gardener, Professor of Education at Harvard University developed the theory of 7 multiple Intelligences in 1983 and recently added the 8th, ‘Naturalist Intelligence‘, which he calls “nature smart”!

Nature School is transformative and transferable as it engages multiple intelligences, and therefore offers each learning type opportunities to grow and shine.

The Author, Mentor and Tracker Jon Young also talks about “nature smart” in a You Tube clip from his own experience over 30 years working with children and youth in the wilderness.

He also points out that Nature Connection is the foundation of a healthy and vibrant Culture as it is really through Nature Connection that we can deeply connect to ourself and then others.

Another good reason why Nature School is so important in our time of uncertainty and climate change is to build resilience and resourcefulness into our children so they can react and adapt appropriately in different circumstances.

And finally Nature Connection develops love and respect for Nature, the realisation of our interconnectedness and our role as humans to take good care of it to secure our future on earth.

Some additional very helpful resource links:



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