Preparations are under way for Countryside 2011 following this year’s hugely successful inaugural campaign – and rural businesses throughout the South East of England are being urged to sign up to the initiative.
Campaign co-ordinator Tourism South East is already galvanising organisers right across the region to join forces to attract more visitors to the countryside.
Rachel Simpson, Rural Programme Manager for Tourism South East, said: “Countryside 2011 is about connecting people with rural England and showing them that it’s there for everyone to enjoy. It also offers rural businesses, groups and communities across the South East of England a unique and free opportunity to attract new business, new visitors, new members or new volunteers.”
The National Trust recently suggested that townies in particular were becoming ‘terrified’ of the countryside and were losing touch with the great outdoors. Rachel said: “This is a very valid concern and one which our own campaign has already begun to successfully address.
“In fact, the first year of our pioneering initiative had a hugely positive impact on the region’s rural visitor attractions and operators and encouraged thousands of people to take a fresh look at what our countryside has to offer.
“Our dedicated website attracted 27,000 hits and we used a number of social media channels to reach out to younger people. We gained more than 880 Facebook fans and 740 Twitter followers in year one. In 2011 we expect these audiences to increase considerably and we’re urging other rural businesses that haven’t yet benefited from being part of the Countryside campaign to sign up.”
The campaign’s pilot project, Countryside 2010, showcased for the first time the best the countryside has to offer across the South East of England. It culminated in a fortnight of events and activities in May and June which attracted an estimated 12% more visitors than usual for the time of year, according to a sample survey carried out by Tourism South East.
More than 500 country-based tourism businesses, visitor attractions, local authorities, special interest groups and local communities joined together to organise 823 events during the campaign, which attracted half a million people – 38,000 of which were new visitors to the countryside.
The events and activities, many of which were free, ranged from wildlife walks, bike rides, pond-dipping, archeological digs and wine tastings to sheep fairs, ‘green’ gyms, food festivals, boat trips and taking a llama or a ferret for a stroll!
Visitors to the countryside also got the chance to learn a new skill, from paragliding, orienteering, archery, Nordic walking and cooking Medieval-style, to bushcraft survival techniques, fishing, mountainboarding, kite-making, metal smelting and willow sculpting.
Countryside 2011 is being supported by such well-known organisations as the National Trust, RSPB, Cycle Touring Club, British Horse Society, Ramblers, Sustrans and the Wildlife Trusts.
The campaign will once again culminate in a fortnight of discovery, from 28 May to
12 June, throughout the South East region, bringing together hundreds of events and activities with a rural setting or theme.
“It’s the ideal opportunity for organisers to pull together over this two-week period and show us all who they are and what they do,” said Rachel.
All organisers who meet the campaign criteria are welcome to add their attractions, events or activities to the Countryside 2011 programme free of charge. You’ll find full details of the campaign and how to register at www.countryside2011.org.uk.
The Countryside initiative comes from the Rural Ways Partnership and is co-ordinated by Tourism South East. It is funded by the Rural Development Programme for England. The campaign is expected to go nationwide from 2012.