The flood made people realise that climate change wasn’t something that happens elsewhere but can affect us locally
In August 2004, Boscastle in north Cornwall was devastated by a flood that swept about 50 cars and six buildings into the sea, as two million tonnes of water – enough to fill 800 Olympic pools - swept through the village.
Five years on, flood repair work finally finished, the historic village of just 800 people is a beacon of sustainability, having undergone something of a green makeover in its major industry - tourism. 'Boscastle has used a natural disaster and awareness of the power of nature and turned it around to use tourism in a very positive way,' says Jason Freezer, sustainability project manager of English tourist board, Enjoy England.
There are now more certified green tourism businesses in Boscastle – eight (with one more awaiting accreditation) - than anywhere else in the UK. Five of these have achieved the highest ranking - gold - in the Green Tourism Business scheme, the only green accreditation scheme validated by the UK’s International Centre for Responsible Tourism and recognised by Visit Britain.
'The flood made people realise that climate change wasn’t something that happens elsewhere but can affect us locally,' says Shelley Barratt, co-owner, with husband Geoff, of five-bedroom Orchard Lodge, one of the newly gold-rated bed and breakfast providers. 'People are making changes that can really make a difference.'
Orchard Lodge’s green makeover included switching to a green electricity tariff, installing solar water heaters, a more efficient heating system, improved recycling, banning chemical cleaners and using only local produce. 'We even have our own pig at a neighbouring pig farm that we use for our sausages,' Barratt says.
The tourism operators hope that visitors will be inspired by their efforts and return home to make similar changes in their lives.
'Guests really notice the local food especially, and say they’ll go home and find out what’s local to where they live,' says Barratt. 'Many of the measures – such as energy and water savings - can actually save money in the long run too.'
Shared adversity has also brought a kind of wartime spirit of cooperation to this tourism honeypot. 'We all work together now,' says Adrian Prescott, chairman of the Boscastle Chamber of Commerce. 'We organise an annual local food and craft festival, which we set up to encourage people back to the village,' said Prescott who, with his wife, Anne, owns Lower Meadows B&B that was severely damaged in the 2004 deluge. 'We’re all in tourism and so we all want to keep visitors here, spending their money locally.'
The green makeover was assisted by funding from North Cornwall council and facilitated by consultants from COAST, Cornwall Sustainable Tourism Project. 'Tourism operators, more than anyone else, should be environmentalists,' says Manda Brookman, of COAST. 'The environment is their main asset and the local community is their social asset.'
The COAST team helped highlight areas where the accommodation providers could improve sustainability and also provided a three-day training course developed in conjunction with local institutions. The gold-rated B&B owners are now ‘ambassadors’ spreading the green tourism message around the county and volunteering with the Cornwall climate change action plan.
'We believe in collaboration and collective clout,' says Brookman. 'You may be just one business in one destination but you can deliver a wide range of changes by working with others,' she says. 'Those in Boscastle have achieved extraordinary things.'
The Green Tourism Business scheme (GTBS) employs qualified environmental auditors to assess accommodation providers. Criteria range from wildlife conservation to purchasing and energy conservation. 'To achieve a "gold" you have to be fully implementing at least 80 per cent of 60 different criteria across the board,' says Amanda Nicholas, GTBS manager. 'Those with gold have really embraced sustainability.'
More than 2,000 accommodation providers are members of the GTBS across the UK.
Despite energy and resource savings made in the local B&Bs, transport by visitors to Boscastle is still one of the major causes of emissions. Public transport is limited – the nearest train station, Bodmin Parkway, is half an hour’s drive away - but, nevertheless, Brookman says visitors should still make the effort to avoid taking the car 'no matter how hard it may be.' Orchard Lodge offers a discount to those who arrive by public transport, walking or bicycle.
Although this summer is the first with no flood repair work disturbing the medieval village, there is some disruption due to the construction of a new sewage treatment plant. This is part of Southwest Water’s £2billion ‘Clean Sweep’ programme to rid the southwest of 250 raw sewage outfalls. The Boscastle work will be finished by spring 2010. Then, the village - and its sea - really will be able to look forward to a clean and green future.
Paul Miles is a freelance journalist.