Ecotourism is “the practice of low-impact, educational, ecologically and culturally sensitive travel” and is a distinct segment within the wider sustainable tourism market.
Sustainability in tourism has come of age. Global warming is finally influencing the choices people make when they travel. At the Nire Valley Eco Camp we aim to go beyond sustainability and move to a regenerative model where we don’t just reduce our carbon use but make it possible to store carbon as well, in the soil and in the plants we grow.
While we cannot easily assist you with your journey here, we can ensure that the environmental impact of your stay at the Nire Valley Eco Camp is as low as possible. It can make a big difference to the impact of your holiday. This is our journey and there are few quick fixes, but there are steps we can take right now. Some of these are:
- Use of clever design.
- Ensuring that our accommodation is built sustainably.
- Reducing the energy required to run our business.
- Using land in a way that is sympathetic to the environment.
- Treating waste water naturally.
- Increasing plant and animal species on the site.
- Helping people understand the benefits of our system.
- Contributing to the development of the wider community.
- Helping our guests to make the right choices.
Design for Sustainability
The environmental impacts of our business will inform every stage of the design of services and accommodation.
There is nothing accidental about the design of the Nire Valley Eco Camp. Regenerative Tourism has been the foundation stone of our development from the very beginning. We were determined to create a successful eco-tourism business, based on ecologically sound principles like sustainability, biodiversity and regeneration.
This means not using more natural resources than we can put back, protecting habitats for wildlife and replacing those that have been damaged or destroyed.
Everything was carefully thought through. The land use, water use and waste water treatment, cabin design, materials and construction, site layout, waste disposal, light pollution, visual impact, environmental impact, local and community impact, disruption to wildlife and plant life, were all considered as important to the design of the site and its amenities. Amazingly, we did not have to compromise in any way on the standard of accommodation or the level of comfort in the cabins. Where there is a will there is a way to sustainability in design.
Sustainability in Construction
We will use locally sourced sustainable building materials and local craftsmen for all our building works.
Our cabins are built on posts anchored to concrete pad stones, reducing the use of concrete foundations by as much as 80%. They are built around a timber frame and are clad mainly in Cedar. The decks are built from Larch. We chose these materials because they are very resilient and resistant to rot. Therefore we have not needed to paint or preserve them with any chemicals. The interiors are clad in rough sawn Douglas Fir and the planks are caulked with jute. As well as a rather pleasing look it gives a really warm and cosy feel to the cabins.
All of these materials were sourced from a saw mill less than thirty kilometres from here. All the timber is Irish and mostly locally felled.
Reducing Energy Requirements
We will constantly review our power supply and usage and seek to reduce our usage to the absolute minimum necessary to run our business.
Our cabins are solar powered. Each cabin has its own solar panel, charger and battery. The battery is 120Ah, so not big. As such, people have to adapt their expectations for what they can power up while staying. Lights are fine and charging phones or laptops is no problem. Hair dryers are NOT going to work. Nor are electric kettles.
While solar installations supply free and sustainable energy at the point of use, calculating the actual real-world environmental benefits is a complicated process. We must also consider the impacts of mining for raw materials and manufacturing the equipment that produces the electricity. With this in mind we have recently invested in the installation of cabling across the site that will enable us to move to a more efficient centralised solar solution, or to move to the grid if and when we can source a sustainable supply. We have also put in a separate meter so we can see exactly what electrical power is being used by the business.
Where this power use cannot be offset by our own regenerative activities, i.e. if we generate more carbon than we can store by planting or other means, we will purchase carbon credits from a reputable social enterprise.
Hot water for showers and for heating in winter comes from a gas boiler. This is the biggest compromise we have had to make. We took the view that biogas is becoming more available and as a renewable product, when it comes from decomposition of organic waste, it is more sustainable than most of the alternatives. Having said that we continue to explore our options, especially for hot water in the summer time, and we are experimenting with several low-tech alternatives, such as solar showers.
The cabins are designed to take advantage of passive solar heating, with large west facing windows that face the evening sun. Heating in winter will still be necessary, but we have ensured that the cabins are very well insulated, so that the heat requirement will be low. When they get warm they stay warm for a long time.
Sustainable Land Use
We will maintain our land in a way that increases biodiversity and sequesters carbon with the aim of being carbon neutral.
Our site is predominantly semi improved, dry-humid, acid grassland. That is a bit of a mouthful, but basically the soil is acidic and no fertilisers have been used on it for many years, allowing a varied but increasingly rare flora to take hold. Due to modern farming techniques and more land being used for forestry, this particular type of grassland, on this particular type of soil, now makes up a tiny proportion of the land of Ireland. It is currently only found in North and West Cork and West Waterford.
We cherish our grass meadows and all the plants and insects that thrive there. We have been experimenting with various methods of mowing and grazing to find a model that increases biodiversity and sustainability.
There is now also a large and increasing body of research that demonstrates how carbon is stored in certain grassland soils. This can make a valuable contribution to the overall strategy for reducing carbon in the atmosphere. It also has a vast potential for storing water, avoiding run-off and soil depletion. The same cannot be said for the mono-crop rye grass pastures that are found on the dairy farms that surround us.
Our hedgerows are made up of mature native trees such as hawthorn, blackthorn, holly, rowan and elder. They are nearly to 6m deep and up to 12m high in places. They are a huge carbon store and they also provide a valuable habitat for birds and small mammals.
Two, three-metre stretches of hedgerow were removed during the construction of the site, out of over a kilometre in total. We will continue to maintain the remaining hedgerows and to plant more to enhance the site in the coming years.
Waste Water Treatment
We will never allow treated water to be wasted or allow effluent to impact negatively on the environment.
As we have showers and toilets in our cabins we had to find a sustainable way to treat waste water. Our research lead us to the Anne Valley near Waterford City where the concept of ICWs has been developed and improved over the years to the extent that they are now an accepted and very ecologically-sound method of treating waste. We have created a number of small wetlands on our site and these ensure that we have no impact on our environment as a result of the water usage on site.
We harvest rain water to help maintain water levels. The dense vegetation in the wetlands absorbs the nutrients and the water itself never enters the surrounding land, and is instead dealt with by evaporation and transpiration.
The wetlands constitute another ecosystem that complements the biodiversity of the grasslands and hedgerows.
All wildlife is important to us and our community, and we will protect it and maintain habitats for it.
Fallow deer, rabbits, foxes, field mice, hedgehogs, red squirrels, white toothed shrews(non-native), pipistrelle and long-eared bats, pine martens and stoats are all present in and around the site. It is not unusual for a herd of wild deer to be found grazing in the middle of the day. The grassland, with its wide variety of grasses, sedges and wild flowers, supports an abundance of insects and these in turn support other creatures, especially birds. As you walk through grass in summer you will often notice the resident swallows will swoop in front of you to scoop up the insects that are jumping out of your way.
We regularly see long-eared owls, barn owls, kestrels, falcons, buzzards, and any number of smaller species such as meadow pipits, jays, finches and tits. It is also possible to see some rarer species from time to time, and walkers in the mountains can often see hen harriers and the occasional eagle.
We are especially happy to see a number of bumble bee species, though not as many as we would like. We are exploring ways to promote their welfare by creating suitable habitats for over-wintering and planting bee friendly plants.
We will promote learning as an important part of the Eco Camp experience.
While not wishing to preach, we are always happy to explain to visitors why we do what we do here to promote biodiversity and sustainability. We are still learning ourselves and it is a fascinating journey to be on. We like to think that while people will come here to relax and unwind, some might leave a little better informed about the world they live in and what they can do to improve it.
We have demonstrated to farmers the advantages of less intensive forms of land use. During the prolonged dry spell in 2018 some visiting farmers were amazed at how the grass here stayed greener than everywhere else. We can demonstrate how the soil and meadow grass is rich and full of animal life. We can inform them how well managed pasture can store water and sequester carbon in a way that can rival forestry.
We are also big fans of the “We are the Ark” initiative, because sometimes sustainability is just not enough, and we have set aside many areas in our site for re-wilding or plant and animal refuges. If people are expecting a perfectly manicured landscape they will be disappointed. We do cut some grass but not much, and we mow the meadows in late summer when they have flowered, but other than that we pretty much let well enough alone. Nature IS perfect. You can’t improve on perfection.
Benefits to the Community
We are 100% committed to having only positive impacts on our neighbours and community.
An important pillar of Eco-tourism is the benefit to the local community. As a small business we currently provide one full-time job and one full-time seasonal job, and we have potential to grow. We also use local tradesmen and suppliers for maintenance and equipment, use the local shop for supplies and encourage our guests to spend locally when they stay.
But community benefit is not just measured in hard currency. In an area where land use is almost entirely mono-crop farming and forestry, the single biggest contribution we are making to our community derives from the maintenance of a unique ecosystem and all the biodiversity that it supports.
We are also keen to promote other businesses with the same ethos and to assist new business start-ups in the region, with whom we can work to further develop this regenerative, collaborative model of eco-tourism.
What you can do.
When you travel the choices you make are important. When you stay with us you can help us reach our objectives.
- Food production is responsible for more than a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions. One of the easiest and most helpful ways you can contribute is to avoid food waste.
- When shopping choose products with as little packaging as possible.
- Turn off the heating when it is not needed.
- If eco-friendly toiletries are provided use them.
- Switch off lights.
- Use the composting and recycling bins.