Back2Nature, Wellness & Ecotourism Genres

Back2Nature, Wellness & Ecotourism Genres

Why do we contribute to events of this Nature?

 

Humanity as a collective has moved away from its natural state of being, that is in harmony with all of nature. It is from nature that humanity has arisen and derives its sustenance.

 

Humanity in its pursuit of consumerism in a predominant state of doing, as opposed to being, is destroying the environment on which it depends for survival, creativity and wellbeing.

 

This apparent inability to live in harmony with nature reflects disharmony within ourselves collectively.

 

We tend to ridicule and even attack any that attempt to live outside of the accepted paradigm or demonstrate to others how to be self sufficient of mind, body and soul. This reflects deep insecurity and surely a lack of wisdom, or at least a lack of willingness to act wisely. Most of us are complicit in this, either by action, inaction or both.

We support and advocate any activity that helps others to remember this most important aspect of our lives. Humanity has drifted far from nature and it would seem that it is attempting to ‘conquer’ nature and even destroy it. This has arisen in the pursuit of false dreams of happiness derived from possession, consumption and obedience to corporatism, and one may say, addiction to obedience. Not to mention extreme indifference and arrogance relating to the rest of life on planet earth.

True there are many people in the world living harmoniously with the rest of life, but on average as a collective, we still have a lot we can do differently.

We have ‘unlearned’ all that was once considered wise. It seems we need to reverse this process, which is surely a process of remembering, it is instinctive, many of us know this to be true, it is felt in our hearts and we feel the growing pressure of its re-emergence. We can not deny it……we ignore it at our own demise.

It is for this reason we are committed to working in the fields we do. Any activity, action or endeavour that leads an individual or more to this remembering process is highly valuable. Essentially also, if it is achieved with no ‘real cost’ to the environment or disadvantage of others.

This is no small achievement!

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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.

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Why Gold Certified Ecotourism is a big deal!

Why Gold Certified Ecotourism is a big deal!

Gold Certification is a Big Deal…

As it requires incremental improvement, innovation and maintenance of a very high level of committment to ecotourism, sustainability, conservation and customer satisfaction.

Internationally ecotourism is overseen by The Global Sustainable Tourism Council and in Ireland the ratified certifying body is Ecotourism Ireland, headed up by Mary Mulvey. The criteria for certification are lengthy and cover the full spectrum of committments to responsible, sustainable and educational ecotourism.  Achieving Gold Certification is not easy.

Make no mistake, this is not green washing!

 

In total there are 59 Measures (covering multiple criteria) that are to be addressed by a certified ecotourism operator, which are assessed by formal application and a comprehensive audit by an ecotourism industry professional. Finally the application and audit are reviewed by The Assessment Committee consisting of representatives of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI), National Parks &Wildlife Service, Irish Trails Office and Tourism Ireland.

Ecotourism Ireland defines Gold Certified Operators as:

“These Ecotourism approved experiences are at the forefront of the industry. They are provided by businesses dedicated to educating tourists about the natural world and local culture. They are striving to be environmentally innovative and socially responsible.

Their ecotourism products have a positive impact on the environment, local communities, and their clients. They will invest both time and money to maintain positive ecotourism practices.

These Ecotourism approved experiences have had an on-site assessment, which verified that they have received 85-100% of the available points.”

 

We have recently attained Gold Certification by Eco Tourism Ireland for the venue we manage Crann Og Eco Farm in County Galway Ireland. This is the second Gold we have attained resulting in four consecutive years certification at this level. We managed the project from no certification to Gold since 2014, and have maintained an ethos of continued improvement in management and the ecotourism experience itself. The venue is currently certified Gold until July 2019.

It’s not easy!

In this particular case it has not been an easy task because we are a small operation and we deliberately keep the numbers of visitors to the experience very low to preserve the venue itself, the surrounding natural habitats and the overall experience. It’s all about getting back to nature, not how many people we can squeeze through the venue and how much money we can make as a result!

Thus our turnover is small and resources limited. This means we must do everything in house and make use of every resource that comes our way. We are masters of the principles of reduce (consumption & waste), re-use (whatever possible) and recycle (everything imaginable).

This also means that continuing to improve our performance in terms of certification, while maintaining the standard of the experience we offer and conserving the environment, requires an enormous committment and plenty of sacrifice.

Having a higher throughput of visitors and subsequently higher revenues would make it easier as we would be more able to outsource some of the functions we perform in house, thus returning more time resource to the core team. This in turn would provide greater scope for enhanced ROI for our time and addtional vacational opportunities, all of which help to enhance the morale and resilience of the core team.

Make no mistake, maintaining a quality ecotourism experience with very high levels of customer interaction, education and recreation, at levels returning nearly 100% 5 Star reviews requires an enormous commitment of time, energy, personal involvement and diligence.

It is very nearly a 24/7 undertaking, certainly during the ecotourism season, and as we also host third party events and provide additional wellness products aside from ecotourism throughout the year, it’s a full time 10 months per year committment. The other two months are usually taken up by planning, marketing (constant), maintenance, renovation and improvements. Somewhere in there we try to take a break too!

What are the benefits of Gold Certification?

Ecotourism is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world and is a major employer in some regions. It appears this is a trend that will continue for a considerable period. Certification to a high level by world renowed organisations enhances reputation and authenticity. It demonstrates committment, diligence and quality of experience to potential tourists.

We at Eco Freelance strongly advocate a return to nature for wellbeing, education and conservation of the environment on which we all depend for survival (check out Our Mission Statement).  Assisting the projects and people we do to achieve high levels of quality, sustainability, conservation and education strongly contributes to the progression of this ethos.

An operator of a venue and experience that promotes this ethos must by definition ascribe to strong principles and performance in areas of sustainability, efficiencies, transparency, education, conservation and cultural awareness.

In doing so such an operator, venue, experience and community demonstrate to others, local and foreign, more symbiotic ways of living and relating to the natural world.  And that’s what we’re all about!

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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 Nutrition.com

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 123rf.com.

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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!

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