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6. Tourism, recreation and access

Who does what?

o. The Department of National Heritage and the Welsh Office are responsible for government policy, guidance and funding. They fund three statutory bodies to promote tourism and advise the government:

British Tourist Authority
English Tourist Board
Wales Tourist Board.

o The Regional Tourist Boards promote tourism in their regions. specifically, South and West Wales, the Heart of England and the West Country Tourist Boards

o. Local authorities are actively involved in the planning, development and promotion of tourism.

Recreation & access

Stated Government aims






Tourism has an economic and physical influence on the estuary, being one of the largest employment sectors. There are several million visitors to the estuary sustaining a large and varied number of tourist attractions, accommodation types and transport services based in both the towns and the countryside. The area capitalises on the unspoilt coastline and countryside, as well as the many Welsh and English cultural themes which provide attractive elements to incoming visitors.

Tourism along both sides of the estuary is shaped by the pattern of principal towns and cities, traditional coastal resorts, small historic market towns, villages and natural landscape features. The principal towns and cities of Cardiff, Newport, Gloucester and Bristol attract the largest numbers of visitors to the region. All are undergoing major regeneration of their historic dockland areas which has strengthened their attraction to residents and incoming visitors.

The general trend for tourism in this region/area has been positive, with increasing numbers of visitors both trippers and tourists over the past two years. Many areas noted that good weather in 1995 and 1996 contributed to increased numbers. The largest part of the tourist market remains the traditional peak season holidays of one or two weeks, but this sector of the tourist market is not growing. Much of the growth in tourism is from domestic short breaks which are showing a strong upward trend. Business related tourism is also an important sector, particularly in the major cities, and there is a large increase in conference and exhibition business.

The Somerset and South Wales coast have popular holiday locations such as Minehead, Burnham-on-Sea, Weston-super-Mare and Barry Island which have well developed tourism infra-structures offering a wide range of accommodation and attractions. These resorts benefit from the intrinsic attraction of the coast as well as providing centres for exploring the Quantocks, Mendip Hills, Somerset Levels and the Vale of Glamorgan.

Local authorities and others are involved with initiatives to promote traditional resorts and other attractions around the estuary. For example, at the start of the 1990's, North Somerset Council prepared a 3 year Tourism Development Action Plan which saw a new determination to overcome problems. This has produced encouraging results with the Sovereign Centre, Winter Gardens Conference Centre, Sea life Centre and Pavilion Hotel. Sedgemoor District Council have developed a similar strategy to improve facilities and extend the holiday season through the promotion of special events such as power boat racing and the Sedgemoor Carnival Weekend. The Vale of Glamorgan, Associated British Ports and the Welsh Development Agency have been involved in a partnership of development. This has resulted in a number of infrastructure improvements and the Waterfront Barry development. This is a major mixed use development of shops, offices and leisure facilities which will link the town and port area with the tourist resort of Barry Island. West Somerset Council are involved with a regeneration strategy for Minehead, including a rebuilding of the town's pier and a large scale reconstruction of the sea wall by the Environment Agency. The smaller resorts of Penarth, Watchet, Clevedon and Portishead have also been the recipients of partnership initiatives which have lead to regeneration packages. Penarth and Clevedon have both attracted major funding packages based around their Victorian piers. Watchet, Portishead and Penarth have also focused on their original dock areas as centres for shops, tourism attractions and offices.

The network of small historic market towns and villages, and associated historic and wildlife attractions are important to the fabric of the area, particularly Chepstow and the Wye Valley, Lydney and the Forest of Dean, Berkeley and Slimbridge in the higher reaches of the estuary. The Severn Bore is a natural phenomenon which brings visitors to viewing spots alongside the estuary at Stone Bench and Minsterworth.`

The majority of tourists travel by car although significant proportions use trains, coaches and buses. There are currently several initiatives that are trying to provide more sustainable transport for tourists. Examples include improving cycle provision through the Sustrans National Cycle Network and schemes such as the Parrett Trail initiative based on a regional footpath shadowing the course of the river. The trail combines the environment and historical elements with public art.

Other visitor attractions include boat trips to the islands of Steep Holm and Flat Holm as well as fishing and pleasure trips from most other resorts. Steam train services are run by the West Somerset Railway and the railway societies at Lydney and Barry.

Table 6: Visitor numbers and spending around the Severn Estuary

 Local Authority

Total Visitor Numbers

Total Visitor Spending

Total Nights Stayed

Directly related jobs





















Vale of Glamorgan










Forest of Dean










South Gloucestershire















North Somerset





West Somerset





* n/a = not available

Map 6: Major tourist attractions and recreational areas


Sailing and boating
Sailing and boating are popular activities and each part of the estuary is host to different types. Sailing and boating in the Severn Estuary is challenging - the high tides and currents present the need for sailors to be skilled in tidal navigation and boat handling. This is one of the attractions of the estuary - together with the fact that the estuary offers the opportunity for large open areas of water with little other boat traffic.

From Gloucester to Sharpness and Lydney there is little in the way of boating interest as the conditions are very hazardous. The estuary provides opportunities for a limited amount of water skiing and power boating. The Gloucester - Sharpness canal is a centre for pleasure boat activity, including canoeing and rowing. There is sailing from yacht clubs at Oldbury Pill, Lydney and Chepstow and there is a marina at the old docks in Sharpness.

On the Welsh coast there is considerable interest in pleasure boating centred upon Newport and Cardiff. There are boat or yacht clubs at Uskmouth, River Rhymney, Cardiff Bay, Penarth and Barry, and a new marina at Penarth. There are moorings up most of the rivers, for example the Usk, Rhymney and Ely. Moorings in Cardiff Bay are likely to increase on completion of the barrage. There are numerous slipways dotted around the estuary but tidal and vehicle access means an uneven distribution.

The Bristol Avon Estuary is used for recreational sailing from clubs at Shirehampton, Pill and Bristol Docks. Pleasure boats also use it as a route connecting the Severn Estuary with Bristol and potentially the Thames via river and canal. Further down the Severn there is coastal sailing from centres such as Portishead, Clevedon, Weston-super-Mare, Burnham-on-Sea, Highbridge, Watchet, Minehead and Porlock. There are moorings at several locations along the North Somerset and Somerset coast. There is a small marina in the mouth of the River Axe at Uphill. New facilities are planned at Portishead and Watchet. Large numbers of small motor boats use the slipway facilities at Weston-super-Mare and Burnham-on-Sea each year for angling, water-skiing, jet skiing and power boat racing. Windsurfing is popular at Weston-super-Mare and Burnham-on-Sea during the high spring tides. There are a large number of canoeists within the area of the estuary but only a few groups use the estuary for training and sea trips, however regular attempts are made to surf and canoe the more significant Severn bores.

Sea angling
There are many vessels used for this popular recreational activity either privately or for charter. Sea angling is also popular from many locations along the shore, particularly the wide beaches and rock promontories (see chapter 11).

Bird watching
Thousands of people come to the estuary to watch birds, particularly in winter when large numbers of waders and wildfowl can be seen. Some of the most important areas are: Brean Down, Sand Point, Bridgwater Bay, Stert Point, the Wildlife Trust's reserve at Blake's Pool, the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust's reserve at Slimbridge, Redwick, the Wentlooge levels and Cardiff Bay. Slimbridge contains the world's largest collection of wildfowl. The large expanses of water and the spectacular views from numerous vantage points attract many thousands of visitors every year.

Wildfowling and shooting
Wildfowling and shooting are carried out on the estuary by individuals and clubs affiliated to the British Association for Shooting and Conservation. They also lease or own sporting rights over the foreshore and adjacent land. The clubs create refuge and conservation areas on coastal and wetland sites, e.g. the mouth of the Usk and at Wick St Lawrence. On the coastal plain there are also a number of rifle ranges belonging to gun clubs and the Ministry of Defence cadet and reserve forces. Wildfowlers have been recognised by the Department of the Environment and Government agencies for integrating their activities with conservation in estuaries.

Visiting nature reserves, National Trust and woodland sites open to the public
Many people gain large amounts of pleasure from visiting the large number of nature reserves, historic monuments and woodland sites which are owned by local authorities, Wildlife Trusts, the National Trust, the Woodland Trust and other private and public bodies. The Forest of Avon is one of the twelve Community Forest initiatives in England and is mirrored by many of the initiatives developed by Coed Cymru to promote multi-purpose woodland for improved recreation, nature conservation and timber production and is supported by the Countryside Commission, Countryside Council for Wales, the Forestry Authority and local authorities. The Forest of Dean is also an important recreational area.

Bathing is popular at beaches from Minehead to Weston-super-Mare and Barry Island and sites further west in the Vale of Glamorgan. The Environment Agency monitors bathing waters in thirteen areas identified as bathing waters by the European Union. This is discussed in chapter 8 on waste management and pollution.

Walking is a popular activity and there is now an emerging network of long distance routes as well as many local rights of way. The South-West Peninsula Coastal Footpath officially terminates at Minehead, however there is a more or less continuous path from Minehead to Hinkley Point with the exception of a two mile section at East Quantock Head. Beyond this point there are a number of sections of coastal path which are currently unconnected, up to the south bank of the River Avon. Several sections of the coastal footpath are prone to coastal erosion. The Severn Way links footpaths and minor roads from the Avonmouth Bridge to Tewkesbury. Work is in hand to start the west bank route from Lydney to Mythe Bridge, near Gloucester. There are a number of initiatives by local authorities on both sides of the estuary to develop long distance footpaths. Along the north shore public footpaths extend along most of the coastline except for gaps at Cardiff, the Wentlooge Levels between Cardiff and the Newport area. There are also a number of paths which link to the coast such as The Taff Trail, Avon Walkway and Parrett Trail.

Horse riding
There are a significant number of horse riders which use the minor roads and bridleways around the estuary. There are also a number of areas of the shore where access is available.

Cycling is a growing recreational activity nationally and there is significant demand for cycling around the estuary. The cycling charity Sustrans, proposed a National Cycle Network including the existing cycleway across the Severn Bridge. There are several proposals for new cycleways along or near to the shore between Chepstow and Newport, and linking Burnham-on-Sea to Bridgwater as part of this national network. There is an existing designated cycleway between Penarth and Sully and along the towpath of the Bristol Avon between Bristol and Pill. There are proposals to extend the use of the Cheddar Valley Walkway to accommodate cyclists between Clevedon and Axbridge. Many of the local authorities have signposted minor roads which offer favourable conditions to cyclists.

Golf is a popular recreational pursuit on both sides of the estuary. The coastal plain has traditionally provided space for these golf courses, several of which have international recognition.

Land yachting, kite buggies and beach races
Opportunities for land yachting and motor sport exist at locations such as Burnham-on-Sea, Brean and Weston-super-Mare.



T1 Promoting sustainable tourism

Tourism is an important part of the economy around the estuary and provides many jobs. However, tourism can have negative impacts on the area which can eventually lead to damage to the features which the tourists came to enjoy. One of the Government's aims is to promote sustainable tourism which contributes to, rather than detracts from the quality of the total environment. This would mean encouraging some forms of tourism and activities and discouraging others. For example, promoting existing and new facilities which encourage the use of sustainable means of transport i.e. walking, cycling and public transport. Other examples are facilities which enhance opportunities for wildlife and inform people about their environment while still allowing income to flow into the local community.

Who is involved: Tourist boards, local authorities, transport operators, trade associations, local businesses, parish councils, resident association and conservation groups.

What is happening: Local authorities and the tourist boards are developing and implementing strategies to encourage sustainable tourism.

T2 The regeneration of existing resorts

One way of promoting sustainable mass tourism within the area is to regenerate the existing coastal resorts rather than develop new areas. They have the public transport and service infrastructure and are organised to deal with large numbers in an environment that can withstand the pressure. The resorts have suffered a severe decline in the numbers of tourists, which has led to a widespread economic and environmental decline evident by their deteriorating townscapes. Many of the resorts' problems, such as dereliction, unused buildings and decaying infrastructure, are caused by too few visitors rather than too many.

Who is involved: Tourist boards, local authorities, private developers, trade associations, local businesses, public transport operators, residents associations and interest groups.

What is happening: Local authorities and others have developed policies in local plans and tourism strategies to encourage regeneration of these resorts. Initiatives to find funding for regeneration are also being pursued.

T3 Concern about condition of beaches

There is widespread concern about the condition of beaches. In particular many users are concerned about three issues:
o. loss of beach material (see chapter 5 and chapter 9);
o. litter (see chapter 8) ;
o. water quality (see chapter 8).


T4 Provision of water-based tourism facilities

There is the potential to increase ferry and pleasure trips in order to increase the opportunities for visitors and tourists to enjoy both sides of the estuary, scenic views from the water and to provide more opportunities to visit the islands of Steep Holm and Flat Holm. There have also been calls for the reinstatement of some of the ferries which previously crossed many of the tidal rivers which flow into the estuary. Many of these services may not be initially self supporting and they may also disturb remote wildlife areas.

Who is involved: Local authorities, tourist boards, the steam ship trust and other potential operators, wildlife trusts, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Some suggestions: Further consideration could be given to developing specific proposals whilst ensuring financial viability and environmental acceptability.


T5 Provision of footpaths around the estuary

Some ramblers believe that the current provision of footpaths is inadequate. They also believe that the quality of way marking should be improved.

Who is involved: Local authorities, Countryside Commission, Countryside Council for Wales, Ramblers Association, landowners, farmers, Environment Agency and other interest groups.

What is happening: The provision of footpaths is being improved with the development of long distance way marked paths and new links.

Some suggestions: Severn Estuary Strategy working groups on access and recreation could bring together the various groups involved to investigate the opportunities for developing arrangements which are agreeable to all concerned.

T6 Access to the shore

Access to the shore is limited by the provision of car parking facilities, rights of way to the foreshore, public transport and slipways for boat access. Some people believe that access is further restricted by sea defence works, new developments, private ownership of foreshore and landowners blocking legal rights of way.

Who is involved: Local authorities, Environment Agency, user groups, parish councils, conservation groups, landowners, farmers.

What is happening: Access to the shore is being improved with the provision of new facilities and services and landowners allowing increased access.

Some suggestions: Severn Estuary Strategy working groups on access and recreation could bring together the various groups involved to investigate the opportunities for developing arrangements which are agreeable to all concerned.

T7 The impact of recreation and tourism pressure on the rural environment

There is a growing use of the countryside for informal recreation, such as walking and cycling. The number of people visiting the countryside, usually by car, is putting pressure on the rural environment and sometimes overwhelming the facilities. For example, through increased traffic and car parking, erosion of footpaths and disturbance of wildlife.

Who is involved: Local authorities, Countryside Commission, Countryside Council for Wales Sports and recreational groups.

What is happening: Local authorities, tourist boards and others are working to develop sustainable tourism (see Issue T1) to help reduce these impacts whilst maintaining the economic advantages of tourism. This includes work to identify pressure points and seek ways to relieve that pressure. Initiatives to manage visitors are also being promoted; for example, by providing good facilities such as well maintained and way marked footpaths including interpretation and education; lengthening the tourist season; controlling parking in sensitive areas and developing park and ride schemes.

T8 The impact of recreation on farming

Landowners and farmers are concerned about disturbance and damage as a result of an increase in recreational activity in the countryside. In particular, they are concerned about disturbance of farm animals by both people and dogs, damage to crops and farm property such as fences, parking in gateways and lanes, unacceptable levels of litter in field ditches and hedges, and illegal shooting.

Who is involved: Landowners, farmers, local authorities, Countryside Commission, recreational groups.

What is happening: Some local authorities and other agencies have addressed this issue in rural strategies and development plans. They also provide facilities such as stiles, way marked footpaths and car parks.

Some suggestions: Promote further development and implementation of rural strategies to establish good communication between local authorities, other agencies and the local community - especially farmers, landowners and recreational users.

T9 Provision of facilities for recreational boat users

Some users of small recreational boats believe that there are not enough facilities for them around the estuary. For example, some sailors would like to see more harbours or refuges on the Somerset coast, and better maintenance of those that do exist. Two other facilities which sailors and fishermen would like improved are moorings and slipways.

Who is involved: Recreational boat users, local authorities, harbour authorities, Coastguard, rescue services, user groups.

What is happening: Traditionally many facilities have been provided free of charge or at low cost and schemes to provide better facilities of commercial charging rates have not always been successful.

Some suggestions: A Severn Estuary Strategy working group could discuss mechanisms for funding and operating improved facilities.

T10 Marinas

Partly in response to the demand for improved facilities (issue T9) proposals to develop marinas have been put forward. However, some people are concerned about the effects of marinas on the environment and on other, traditional boat users.

Who is involved: Local authorities, private developers, harbour authorities, user groups.

What is happening: There is a requirement to undertake an Environmental Impact Assessment for proposed marina development under the (EC) Council Directive on the Effects of Certain Public and Private Projects on the Environment. Local consultation is required with user groups, local resident and conservation groups.

T11 Accommodating motorised watersports in the estuary

There are several areas where motorised watersports, such as power boating and jet-skiing, are popular activities but they are unpopular with some other users of the estuary. In particular, sailors are concerned about safety, and ramblers and bird-watchers are concerned about the effects on the quiet of the countryside and wildlife. Conversely, powercraft users are concerned that their use of the estuary will be restricted unnecessarily.

Who is involved: User groups, navigation authorities.

Some suggestions: Further consideration could be given to identifying areas where these activities can be best accommodated and how to protect sensitive areas.

T12 Potential increases in regulation of water based recreation

Some recreational sailors are concerned about possible future increases in regulation of water-based recreation. They are concerned about regulations which restrict their use of the estuary. In particular there is some concern that the development of the Severn Estuary Strategy will lead to increased bureaucracy and unnecessary regulation.

Who is involved: User Groups, Severn Estuary Strategy, harbour authorities.

What is happening: The Severn Estuary Strategy Group is not proposing new regulation and all interests will be represented on the working groups.

T13 Reducing perceived conflicts between recreational users

Many people believe that there is a lot of conflict between different types of recreation and between recreation and other users. Whilst some of this conflict is real much can be avoided by careful planning and liaison between user groups and managers.

Who is involved: Various user groups, local authorities, Environment Agency, harbour authorities, Coastguard.

Some suggestions: The Severn Estuary Strategy could work to improve co-ordination and communication between estuary user and management groups and encourage consultation between users and the community.

T14 Public understanding of recreation management

Some users of the estuary are confused about who does what in the management of recreation. In part this is due to the wide range of organisations involved and also the variety of regulations and byelaws they enforce.

Who is involved: All regulators and managers of recreation, user groups.

What is happening: Some regulatory bodies publicise their activities. English Nature have undertaken a review of byelaws in the Severn Estuary.

Some suggestions: The Severn Estuary Strategy working groups could consider ways in which the management of recreation could be better publicised.


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Created: 10/28/99 Updated: 10/28/99