A £10.8m project to boost the Welsh economy and create jobs through its landscape and wildlife has delivered impressive results.
The Communities and Nature (CAN) project was managed initially by the Countryside Council for Wales and later Natural Resources Wales (NRW), and was part funded by the European Regional Development Fund.
The project invited ideas from the Welsh environment sector to develop visitor infrastructure and attractions in the Welsh countryside whilst simultaneously allowing more disadvantaged groups to benefit through employment, training and volunteering opportunities.
Many of the ideas selected not only enhanced existing facilities and created new ones but also created sustainable jobs and small rural businesses.
Helga Dixon, CAN Project Officer for NRW, said:
“It has been incredible to see how staff at Welsh wildlife and countryside attractions have been able to devise new features and build business enterprises on the back of them with only a little stimulation, advice and funding from us.
“Even more amazing has been the opportunities given to the unemployed and disadvantaged groups to work and learn new skills. We made it a condition of funding that each project had to include such opportunities, and it was left with the project managers to develop.
“That proved to be a good move as it allowed people to come up with a wide variety of creative solutions.”
In total CAN helped create 31 new jobs, 11 new business enterprises, opened up 440 kilometres of paths and led to more than 1.7m visits to the Welsh countryside.
The 11 new enterprises include a tea room, bike hire enterprise, arts and crafts enterprise and café. The project also improved existing facilities at sites including exhibition centres, car-parks, toilets, shops and places to eat and drink; developing and installing signage and information boards; improving and marking paths and cycle routes and upgrading marketing activities.
In addition, an evaluation of the CAN project by Cardiff Business School found the indirect impact of visitor spend amounted to approximately £5,700,000 of added gross value per year, supporting the employment of 309 full-time equivalents.
“The statistics only tell part of the story, what makes it exciting are the individual stories behind these numbers.
“The positive effect the project had on people’s lives ranged from young or newly qualified graduates getting a first post, older people learning new skills, new opportunities for people with learning difficulties and unemployed youngsters without qualifications getting their first experience of regular employment.
“The project also raised the profile of many of these sites and ventures and boosted the local economy by attracting visitors from all over Britain and Europe.”