An incredible £1400 was raised by The Old Rectory Hotel in Martinhoe on Exmoor last year in a visitor pay-back scheme organised by the National Trust in North Devon. Guests at the charming Georgian country house hotel have a small amount of money automatically added to their bill (which they are told about and have the choice to opt out of) and this is used to benefit the surrounding National Trust countryside.
"It is a great way of connecting visitors with the stunning Exmoor landscape", says co-owner Huw Rees. "All of our guests are more than happy to donate money in this way especially as they can see the results as soon as they step out of the door".
The Old Rectory hotel is very close to the South West Coast Path between Woody Bay and the Heddon Valley and this year the money raised will be used to remove invasive rhododendron from the coastal cliffs at Highveer.
"Highveer is an area of coastal heath and there is a constant threat of it becoming infested by rhododendron", reports Julian Gurney National Trust Head Ranger for West Exmoor. "We have, over the years, spent a lot of time and money trying to eradicate this invasive and tenacious weed. We have had great success both at Woody Bay and in the Heddon Valley and we now need to get to some of the more isolated plants on the cliff tops".
The area, very popular with hotel guests, is crossed by both the South West Coast Path and a Victorian carriageway with excellent views East and West along the Exmoor Coastline. South Wales and Lundy are also visible on clear days and the cliff edges host some of the best sea bird breeding colonies in the South West of England. Vegetation is generally heather and gorse with some small areas of sessile oak woodland and wild yew trees. Cutting back the rhododendron will ensure that the views, natural vegetation and wildlife are preserved.
Last year, a new local company joined the Visitor Payback Scheme. Neil and Christel Osmond run Experience Exmoor and take people out on 4 x 4 safaris. They have exclusive use of some National Trust track ways so that they can take their guests right into the heart of Exmoor. Their donations have also contributed to local National Trust work.
"The financial benefits of the scheme are obviously great, but for me the important aspect is that we are helping people to connect with landscapes that are important to them in a meaningful and rewarding way," says Visitor Services Manager, Jemma Lowin. "We are delighted to be working closely with both the Old Rectory Hotel and Experience Exmoor in this way."