Andy Pratt, Mike Smith & Kate Ryder
Venus Café at Blackpool Sands was the venue for the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Unit’s recent conference. The theme was Natural Capital and the importance of business in the AONB. The guest speakers were local businessman Michael Smith, Managing Director of the Venus Company which has six cafes in Devon and Cornwall and Esther Kieboom an environmental economist and independent expert on Natural Capital.
As a company positioned in some of the South West’s most beautiful locations, The Venus Company strived to minimise the harmful effects the business and its operations have on the environment. Michael strongly believes sourcing products wherever possible locally, has enormous benefits on the environment, with food miles greatly reduced. He explained to other local businesses the growth of the Venus Company and its quest to become the greenest beach café and shop operator in the country. The Venus Company has twice won the Queen’s Award for Sustainable Development in 2010 and 2005.
Esther is the facilitator of the Tin Coast Partnership, in West Cornwall which aims to make tourism a more sustainable business. She explained what ‘Natural Capital is and how it can increase benefits from tourism to the local economy. Examples of this include the use of locally produced food, visitors using local shops, embracing environmental sustainability principles to reduce energy and waste, promotion of public transport. protection and enhancement of the area’s natural and cultural heritage, providing visitors with a high quality experience in all aspects of their visit and communicating effectively to visitors about the special qualities of the area . This type of activity might also include the development of specific tourism products which enable discovery and understanding of the area.
Diane Lethbridge South Devon AONB Communications Officer explained how important an asset the landscape was for business and the opportunity for growth especially in the shoulder seasons. The ‘South Devon Outdoors’ group had adopted a ‘sustainable activities charter’ to minimise its impact on the landscape and educate customers about the special area. AONB Manager Roger English said: "AONBs are beautiful places where the environment underpins large parts of the rural economy. We would like to work more closely with businesses to help them understand that the AONB is so much more than the view and how we can collaborate for mutual benefit. Visitors are taking a much closer interest in green practices and as an organisation we can help advise, facilitate and promote the protected landscape for its sustainable credentials.”