Suffolk: Nearly 1,000 visitors a day descending on Minsmere since it started featuring on BBC Springwatch - how long will this success continue?
- Credit: Lucy Taylor
Experts in Suffolk’s vibrant tourism sector are expecting the industry’s injection of cash into the county’s economy – which currently stands at more than £1.75billion a year – to be significantly boosted by Springwatch for years to come.
The popular TV series is showcasing the stunning landscapes and bristling biodiversity of the county’s coast and is watched by several million viewers on each of its four mainstream BBC2 evening broadcast slots – as well as round-the-clock Red Button and wesbsite coverage – and experts say it represents an “amazing opportunity” for Suffolk tourism.
The “Springwatch effect” is already being seen at Minsmere, the RSPB’s flagship nature reserve which is hosting the broadcasts, as well as in pubs, hotels and other businesses on the coast. The show’s legacy for the tourism industry is forecast to be long-term and lucrative, reaching far beyond the end of this year’s broadcasts and far beyond subsequent Springwatch series - Minsmere hosts the show again next spring and is expected to do so for a third season in 2016.
This spring’s highly acclaimed broadcasts end tonight and among the programme’s most obvious, instantly tangible, impacts has been records tumbling at Minsmere itself. On average, about 90,000 visitors are attracted to the world-famous nature reserve each year but during the broadcast period some day totals have already been around the 1,000 mark.
The reserve’s ability to absorb large crowds without impacts on the wildlife visitors want to see is well known. Overflow car parking areas have been put into action, a special “pop-up” cafe has been established at the junction of two of the reserve’s major trails and the RSPB’s specially appointed volunteer “army” has been on hand in droves to help visitors in a variety of ways.
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Minsmere visitor centre manager Tim Rose said there had been a “significant” increase in public interest in the reserve.
“We are thoroughly delighted to have BBC Springwatch on site this year,” he said. “Minsmere has always been a honeypot nature reserve in Suffolk, and Springwatch has made it that bit sweeter. It is great to have such a popular television show highlighting how important the work done for wildlife on the Suffolk coast really is and inspiring the public about wildlife in general.
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“People have clearly been keen to see the area for themselves, and we’ve seen a significant increase in interest in Minsmere, both with local people and those further afield. On the first day of broadcast, we had one of our busiest days ever in Minsmere’s history and across the broadcast period so far, we have seen a 50% uplift in reserve visitors, which is fantastic.
“RSPB memberships over the past couple of weeks have tripled in comparison to this time last year and shop sales of items such as binoculars, bird food and gifts are on the rise too.”
Local pubs and hotels have also seen the benefits.
At the Eel’s Foot Inn at Eastbridge, on the edge of the reserve, licensee Julian Wallis sees a surge of trade each evening after the end of the Unsprung broadcasts that follow the main Springwatch shows. Production team members and occasionally the main presenters call in to unwind – and many of them have signed a ceiling to show their thanks for the pub’s hospitality.
“The Springwatch team are just like one big family – they are a fantastic bunch,” said Mr Wallis. “Many of them are very good naturalists and they are all good company. It seems to build up during the week to Thursdays and then the place is really buzzing. Nick Baker (the Unsprung presenter) came in last Thursday and joined in with our regular music night by playing some superb blues harmonica - he was extraordinarily good and it was one of the best nights we have ever had here.”
He added: “In general, I would say our trade has certainly increased on the back of Springwatch.”
Matthew Goodwin, general manager at the Ship at Dunwich, was also delighted to be hosting Springwatch team members. “Springwatch really goes deeply into what is so brilliant about the Suffolk coast and this area in particular,” he said. “Every view they show, every picture they present, shows the area looking absolutely stunning.
“Suffolk sometimes is seen as a little twee, a little touristy perhaps, but there is so much more to it than that. It has fantastic diversity in its landscapes and wildlife and the things that people can do and see here – and Springwatch shows a lot of it and shows it so well. Here at the Ship we might not have seen a massive instant spike in business yet but I am absolutely sure that the legacy of Springwatch in tourism terms will be seen in the longer term with tens of thousands of more visitors being attracted to the area.”
Visit Suffolk brand manager Amanda Bond added: “Springwatch at Minsmere provides an amazing opportunity for Suffolk’s tourism industry, which airs four nights a week in a prime-time slot over a period of three weeks for three years. It is likely to have a very positive impact in the long term and Visit Suffolk are doing all they can to amplify the effect through social media and media relations.
“Over the course of the series some 30 million people would have engaged with Minsmere, the RSPB or the Suffolk brands so the legacy of such an event is that Suffolk will be top-of-mind for a short or longer break in the UK.
“There is a wider opportunity here for the whole county with wildlife tourism being big business with nearly two million people citing birdwatching as a hobby as well as the RSPB membership in excess of one million. Suffolk is an ideal location in which to enjoy nature at its best.”