Encouraging responsible visits as we offer a warm welcome

 In National Landscape updates, Volunteering

It is wonderful that so many people have begun to spend more time in the great outdoors and are getting to know the UK countryside better. Nevertheless, an increase in the number and range of visitors to the countryside is not without its challenges.

Over the past year, land managers and the residents of the Blackdown Hills AONB have unfortunately had to contend with issues such as woodland fires, unauthorised camping, inconsiderate parking, and littering. Most people exploring the Blackdown Hills have been doing so responsibly, and anti-social behaviour is fortunately an exception. Nevertheless, not everyone will be familiar with the impact they might have when they visit the AONB.

Asking people to stick to footpaths may seem like nit-picking to a newcomer but if you’re aware of the impact straying from the path might have on ground-nesting birds or a farmer’s livelihood, it might make you think twice. If you’re more familiar with spending time in a city or town you might not realise that there won’t be a litter bin everywhere you go in the countryside. Being prepared with a bin-bag to take your litter home could make all the difference. Some may be surprised to discover that, even in a rainy country such as ours, lighting a fire, leaving a smouldering barbecue or even a glass bottle, could lead to a devastating woodland fire.

Another potential issue is dog walking – the UK has seen a significant increase in dog ownership in the past year. This is something we need to be mindful of in an area with livestock grazing and fragile habitats.

With these issues in mind, we have been working with the National Association of AONBs to support Natural England in its update of the Countryside Code. This update is being backed up with a publicity campaign to help promote thoughtful and safe visits to the countryside.

Also in support of the launch of the new Countryside Code, NFU has released a series of videos and shareable resources to raise awareness amongst walkers and other visitors.

Clean Devon Partnership is working to protect our environment for wildlife, residents, businesses, and visitors by helping to prevent, detect and deter littering in Devon. More about Clean Devon and how you can get involved.

And we’ll certainly be doing our bit to get these messages out to the public.

Aerial view north from Dumpdon Hill showing the field patterns and hedgerows

North from Dumpton Hill. Photo: Liam Marsh

National Landscapes for all to enjoy

We have an important role to play in educating and informing people but also ensuring that the Blackdown Hills AONB remains a warm and welcoming place for all.

The past year has highlighted how much we rely on green spaces for our wellbeing but also that not access to the countryside and the natural environment is not easy for everyone.

We continue to strive to overcome the barriers people experience in accessing the Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. After all, AONBs are National Landscapes for all us all to enjoy, no matter what our background or personal circumstances.

Projects like Somerset Nature Connections and Connecting the Culm are contributing to this aim. Our volunteer programme has recruited volunteers to support people who would otherwise have found it difficult to visit the AONB to experience quality time in the area.

Getting the word out

Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Visitor GuideOur publicity materials play an important role in providing inspiration and information to help people plan an enjoyable and responsible visit to the area. Our website has a guide to places to visit, walks and rides and an online events calendar.

We will soon be starting the process of updating and digitising our walking, cycling and horse-riding routes to make them easier use. We are currently looking for volunteers to help us with this work. So, if you think you might be able to help with this, please register your interest here.

Shortly before the pandemic, we published a new visitor guide which we will now be distributing to venues in and around the Blackdown Hills AONB. We’ll soon be getting in touch with businesses who have previously displayed our leaflets but, in the meantime, if you’re keen to display our visitor guides, please feel free to contact us.

We won’t be publishing our printed events guides this year but we will be promoting events via our online calendar. If you’re planning event which fits well with the ethos of the Blackdown Hills AONB we’d be happy to help promote it for you. Contact us for more information.

This year, we will be marking the 30th anniversary of the Blackdown Hills being designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We are creating some activity trails with all sorts of ideas for people to explore, learn about, and enjoy the Blackdown Hills. We are also planning a series of blogs, reflecting on some of the most notable landmarks of our 30-year history.

Our Explore and Create videos provide some wonderful ideas to help youngsters enjoy and learn about the Blackdown Hills. Later this year, we’ll be creating some more videos for children, exploring some of the history of the Blackdown Hills landscape. So, watch this space!



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