Sunday, 16 February 2014 21:00

Extreme weather hits rural tourism

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Extreme weather hits rural tourism

RURAL tourism businesses say extreme weather and flooding has led to a drop in enquiries.

Flood damaged transport links and wet weather have prompted rural tourism chiefs to issue a reminder that the countryside is "open for business".

"If people stay away then the effect will be terrible for so many rural communities," said Andy Woodward of Farm Stay UK, which represents farms that provide tourism accommodation.

Tourism businesses up and down the country were seeing a drop in enquiries – just at a time when they needed business most as they come out of winter and into the weeks up to Easter.

Mr Woodward said Farm Stay UK was in contact with all its 1,200 members – and they were "a gauge of the real situation out there in the countryside."

Some 99% of farms were open for business and none had closed due to the weather, although some Somerset properties were supporting local families as a priority over business.

"That means that farms up and down the UK are waiting to welcome guests, serve them local food, give them a real farm experience and start the season off properly."

Mr Woodward added: "If there is one thing we would ask of the British traveller this year, on behalf of our farm members, it would be to pledge to stay in Britain for one short break this year."

Doing so would make a positive difference to rural communities, he said.

Farm Stay UK claims some £3.5 billion has been added to the rural economy as a result of guests staying on farm locations over the past 30 years.

But tourism isn't the only sector hit by extreme weather. Damage to the main rail link between London Paddington and Cornwall means other businesses are also feeling the pinch.

Stagecoach, Britain's biggest bus operator, today (Friday 14 February 2014) confirmed a package of measures to help communities affected by the closure of the storm-damaged railway line at Dawlish in Devon.

Some 80 metres of sea wall was destroyed by high tides and storms, causing a significant stretch of railway to collapse into the sea at Dawlish, Devon.

Work is underway to repair the sea-wall, but it is estimated that the damage means the line between Exeter St David's and Newton Abbot will not re-open until mid-March.

Newton Abbot MP Anne Maris Morris said: "Minimising the disruption for the travelling public both practically and financially is crucial while we put in place a more resilient railway line."

She made the comments as Stagecoach announced it was discounting single and return fares on key bus routes in Devon by up to 50%.

The transport company is also accepting First Great Western rail tickets on its bus journeys between Exeter and Newton Abbot while rail services remain disrupted.

Stagecoach regional managing director Michael Watson said: "Communities in the south-west are facing a daily struggle against the impact of some of the most severe and relentless weather conditions we've ever seen.

"Transport is absolutely vital to our region to get people to work and ensure they can get on as best they can with their daily lives. At times like this it's important we all pull together."

Dawlish and Teignmouth town centre manager Emma Kay said: "The railway is an essential link for our communities, which is being highlighted by the disruption that the closure is causing."

Meanwhile, churches in flood-hit areas across the country are working closely to help and offer shelter, advice and support to affected communities.

Alan Smith, Bishop of St Albans, said: "This is a time when local communities need to pull together and really think about what can be done to help one another."

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