Interpretive Plan of Ecotourism Experience

Crann Og Eco Farm

Last Revised April 2017

1. Research

Children have long been part of the Crann Og tourist experience as the venue was designed to be a family experience. Ecotourism Ireland Certified Silver Kids Eco-Yoga days have been hosted at Crann Og since 2011. Eco Family Day was an experience that developed from observations of family response to the natural environment at Crann Og and the apparent benefits derived by our visitors.

Furthermore, Crann Og Eco Farm is an experience that we believe meets the rapidly growing demand within main stream education, and consumer demand, towards place based learning and back to nature recreational experiences. It is our goal to be a service provider in this field in the West of Ireland, to local, regional and international visitors.

Research into the market for previous products such as ‘Eco Family Day’, includes personal experience by Flor and Marion during a 10 year period of operation at Crann Og. Customer and guest interview and observations have been combined with internet and peer research of trends in child education, nature and forest schooling, and ecotourism venues offering similar programs, in Ireland and abroad. Our internet research has been comprehensive.

Since Gold Certification in 2015 many new products and experiences have been brought online at Crann Og Eco Farm. In all cases the demand for, and methods of promotion have been researched mostly online and include peer research within Ireland and abroad. SEO research conducted during production of the new website for Crann Og gave further insight into consumer demands.

Additional information is derived from Google reports on internet use, traffic and trends, as is that of payment gateways such as Paypal, and major tourism organisations such as Tourism Ireland. In addition, data is reviewed from sources such as TIES and GSTC on tourism trends. We have also monitored trends within reservation requests for third party event hosting that has further highlighted a strong movement towards nature based experiences, including therapies and wellness services.

Below are products that have been added to the Crann Og experience since Gold Certification in 2015. The first products on this list are both stand alone products and also available to ecotourism guests by appointment:

  • Daily Free Experiences with Animals: farm ’rounds’ feeding and tending to animals, organic and permaculture gardening.

  • Nature/Forest Schooling: Blocks of classes for kids 4 to 8, 8 to 12 years old.

  • Guided Nature Therapy Walks: 3 hour guided nature immersions for adults.

  • Wild Food Foraging: 1 Day Workshops, March, May, September & October.

  • Living Willow Weekend Workshops: Learn all about working with living willow.

  • 3 Nights Eco Stay & 5 Nights ReNature Experience Packages: for groups/families, the whole Crann Og experience bundled, with accommodation.

  • Magical Walks & Camp Fire Storytelling Nights: with resident bard, weaving natural & cultural magic.

  • Crann Og Quests & Tours: 3 quests created to engage tourists with local & regional attractions and mystical places.

This last product is stand alone and must be purchased in advance;

  • ReNature Retreats: 3 Day Unplugged Yoga & Wellness retreats without technology.

2. Target Audience

Families with children ranging in age from 3 to 18 years, parents of any age. Families of any ages are welcome though a certain level of mobility is required for outdoor nature based activities.

Parents and children with an interest in the environment, reconnecting with nature and conservation. Families with an interest in sustainable living alternatives, and meeting other like minded people.

People of all ages with interests in nature, conservation, exploring nature, retreating from modern lifestyle, wildlife watching and farmyard animal interaction. Guided Nature Therapy Walks and Renature Retreats are adult only products and the target audience is typically female, though not exclusively, between the ages of 25 and 55 years.

3. Main Themes and Messages of The Interpretive Experience

Re-connecting with nature and becoming aware of nature’s cycles and our inter-dependency with nature. Realising the continued viability of the natural world and modern society depends upon redeveloping a healthy relationship to the natural world.

Disconnecting or ‘unplugging’ from information technology to slow down into the moment in nature to release stress, relax, and for benefits of emotional and physical health.

Finding ways to explore and have fun for children and parents together, naturally. In our experience many parents don’t know how to play or be in nature, by themselves or with their children. Crann Og provides the space, means and support to enhance this relationship and foster the concept of family and group cohesion.

Conservation of nature and the rarity of bio-diverse habitats in Ireland. Discussions, exploration and tours of Drummin Woods SAC, and it’s immediate presence and ease of access, enhances this theme.

Ecotourism and it’s potential benefits to nature conservation. The overall back to nature aspects of the eco-farm combined with interaction with the SAC avail the visitor of the opportunity to consider potential enhancements to natural area conservation by it’s controlled and monitored use as a recreational, educational and therapeutic resource.

Exploring edges and expanding limits of personal and familial experience and levels of comfort in a natural world setting. For many the ecotourism and back to nature experiences can take them to, and beyond the limits and comfort of their prior experience. This can be uncomfortable, confronting and even frightening for some people, who live largely disconnected from nature in urban scenarios.

Enhancing mental health through interacting with the natural world, stimulating the senses through multisensory experiences. Observation and exploration of nature encourages a sense of calm, compassion and belonging, which counteracts the competitive and overstimulated lifestyles of our time.

Conservation of resources and energy and the endless possibilities of the concepts of reduce, re-use and recycle. The Crann Og venue in it’s construction and operation exemplifies this theme.

4. Goals and Objectives of The Interpretive Experience

To leave Crann Og with enhanced appreciation of the natural environment and enhance their ability and freedom to enjoy it. That they realised their interdependency with nature and have been inspired to find ways to protect and preserve the natural environment in their region of origin.

Having learned some simple outdoor skills to better engage with the natural world. Increasing self confidence jointly for parents and children, contributing to family and community bonding, and develop important life skills such as co-operation, problem solving and creative thinking.

We have observed that modern day children and younger people, and increasingly parents also, are more comfortable in a virtual world than the environment around them. Even though some time is spent outdoors they may lack the inner freedom to explore and play in the world outdoors. An enhanced freedom to explore and take risks increases self esteem and self reliance.

By offering an experience based in nature, ranging from organic gardens and friendly farm animals, to adventures in wilderness areas, we aim to re-connect families to nature and infuse them with a passion for the world around them.

Furthermore we aim to sow the seeds of nature conservation and responsible eco tourism in our visitors, adding upscaled recycling, organic food and foraging in nature to meet one’s needs into that mix. We hope to show people how much fun they can have simply by slowing down into the moment and enjoying the natural world around them, without the distractions and overstimulation of information technology.

And lastly to do at least 1 thing they have never done before (in nature), or at least not for a very long time, such as;

  • Befriend a tree.

  • Feed a horse, sheep, chickens or ducks.

  • Collect farm fresh eggs or forage on the grounds for food they can eat.

  • Pick food from a vegetable garden or tunnel and eat it.

  • Cuddle a lamb.

  • Befriend and cuddle up with one of our hugely popular dogs or cats.

  • Observe native animals, birds, bats, squirrels, bees, insects and many others, going about their business right here on the farm or in surrounding wilderness areas.

5. Structure of The Interpretive Experience

Guided Tours: accompanied interpretive walks in Drummin Woods and other nearby wilderness areas including Gort river. Guided Nature Therpay Walks on the eco farm and in Drummin Woods.

Educational: Nature/forest School classes for 4 to 8, and 8 to 12 year olds.

Experts/Demonstrations: Food foraging day workshops by Mary Bulfin.

Field Trips: Crann Og quests of local and regional attractions and sites of significance.

Other: Renature Retreats: unplugged back to nature retreats. Camp fire nights with storytelling with resident bard.

Interpretive Materials

Pre-visit: website content linking also to social media platforms and Youtube channel containing interpretive materials and reference and link to SAC technical data.

Library available: in main cabin, also in main Crann Og residence upon request.

Guided animal tracking: upon request with select Cran Og personnel.

Self-guided trails: in Drummin Woods, hopefully soon NPWS approved interpretive trail with maked points and features of interest.

Exploring different habitats: from the working small holding that is the eco farm to created habitats within the grounds and on borders, to the various habitats within the SAC.

Reference materials: available on-site for public use.

Other: By witnessing upscale recycling, participating/witnessing animal husbandry and organic gardening.

6. Special Features of the Interpretive Experience

Existing on-site is a children’s playground and many hand crafted natural features such as orchards, ‘wild’ gardens, living willow fedges (fence/hedges), arches and domes. In addition there is a hand built pond area which serves as an educational tool for nature school at times and is a lovely meditation space.

Crann Og is typically regarded as a heavenly playground for children with 14 acres of space to roam free and play, many trees, grassed areas and a sand arena for games, and many friendly and affectionate animals. The two farm dogs Minnie and Ginger consistently rate very high with guests and are social media stars!

Parents delight in seeing their children at play outside and away from technology. It’s common to see family bonding enhanced by the stay at Crann Og. Crann Og is listed and promoted as a ‘low to no technology’ venue, that is no tv, no wifi…just nature.

Adults in general greatly value the peace, quiet and tranquility, the depth of relaxation and the release of stress they experience. Slowing down, relaxing, unwinding and sleeping deeply is often commented on.

The experience of Drummin Woods is regarded by most as magical and deeply moving.

Many visitors observe and comment in feedback about being made more aware of issues such as water and energy consumption, down sized lifestyles and recycling. ‘How they take things for granted’ in their usual life experience is a regular observation.

Typically visitors are pleasantly surprised by how much fun, and how relaxed they felt, by ‘getting back to nature’. Leaving is often sad for families and children in particular, leaving behind the beautiful surroundings, the peaceful lifestyle and the animals they have befriended. The friendliness and care of the hosts is a regular observation by visitors, the hospitality seeming to add depth to the overall experience, fostering a sense of safety, care and of being at home.

7. Communicating the Principles of Ecotourism

All visitors to Crann Og must first engage our services online through our website, social media platforms, accommodation and experience booking platforms, such as AirBnB and Self Catering Travel. Throughout these media we describe the venue and it’s ethos within the framework of ecotourism and include reference to Ecotourism Ireland, the standard of our certification, the definition of ecotourism and the ‘back to nature’ aspect of our particular ‘ecotourism product’.

Included within this online positioning is content other than direct marketing aimed at educating the general public and describing many aspects of our daily life experiences and lifestyle, living ‘close to nature’ and supporting and advocating a widespread ‘return to nature’ in terms of education, mental and physical health, and recreation. This includes the ethos of controlled and managed tourism being a conservatory and enhancement of natural areas.

Upon arrival a staff member will greet and introduce guests to the facilities, encouraging them to read the abbreviated policies and invite questions. The Crann Og Environmental and Ecotourism Policies and Management Plans are made available to all guests and are displayed in visitor accommodations, the yoga room and main buildings. The “Leave No Trace guide will be required reading for all parents, and participants in other packages hosted at Crann Og.

Located in each accommodation facility is a visitor information booklet containing codes of conduct and policies, management plans and as much ecotourism and general tourism information as can be contained therein.

Furthermore, the primary themes of the interactive experience are aimed at enhancing awareness of the environment and conservation. This includes tourism and general recreation and exploration within nature.

In the 2015 Application for Certification was outlined plans for developing an interpretive trail within neighbouring Drummin Woods SAC, with assistance from Botanist Dr Cillian Roden of GMIT. A formal application was made to the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) in July 2015. Consent was granted to operate the interpretive trail, subject to conditions, in August 2015.

This trail has only been formed in March of 2017 as limited resources and other priorities deemed the trail project be put on hold until recently. In addition the Crann Og team determined it would be advantageous to attain additional educational and facilitative training and experience before embarking upon the trail project. This has since been achieved.

A re-application for the trail and additional activities in line with current Crann Og back to nature experiences and products was made in April 2017. At the time of this application a decision remains pending, but it is hoped that it will be approved and become a benchmark for similar and subsequent applications by other operators in the future. A copy of this application and supporting documentation is provided as part of this application for re-certification.

8. Significance of Ecotourism Area

Crann Og Eco Farm is situated within the Burren Lowlands and adjoins the Drummin Woods SAC 002181. The SAC has been assessed as a remnant of the Great Forest of Aughty by the Woodland League. The SAC covers an area of approximately 80 hectares, combining oak woodland, mixed woodland, heath, bog and wetland areas. In all there is approximately 40 hectares of oak woodland, commencing at the border of the Crann Og property.

In our 2015 application Drummin Wood was a proposed or candidate SAC. In August of 2016 Drummin Wood gained Formal Designation under the Natura 2000 network of sites as an SAC. Drummin is designated as such because of it’s range of habitats, bio-diversity and rarity in Ireland and Europe.

9. Monitoring and Evaluating the Interpretation

We take great care to interact with our guests in a friendly, welcoming manner and attempt to make them ‘feel at home’. We seek verbal feedback from our guests during their stay to ensure the quality of their experience and comfort throughout. We take great pride in our gentle and caring approach to our guests and ensure that all our staff and volunteers conduct themselves in a friendly and discreet manner at all times.

Verbal feedback throughout the experience is combined with the results of our Visitor Satisfaction Feedback Forms to gauge the quality of the experience. This combined information is reviewed after each guest departure to assess how the experience may be improved and/or expanded upon.

Furthermore, we have added post visit customer feedback emails to our procedures, requesting feedback and reviews on popular platforms such as Trip Advisor, AirBnB and Facebook. We also encourage guests to share images from their experience either via email or on social media platforms.

The Visitor Satisfaction Feedback forms are collated each year and the data used to inform potential customers of previous guest ratings for ecotourism accommodations and experience, on each page of the accommodation products on the Crann Og website.

In addition, where we hold day workshop type experiences and host third party events, we again seek verbal feedback and ask participants to enter comments in our event/workshop visitor book, which is available for all to read. From this we use visitors testimonials, where permitted, in online promotion. We actively seek third party comments and written testimonials to our service and the overall experience and publish select reviews.

10. Improving the Interpretive Experience Over Time

The existing experience(s) has evolved over more than a decade of interacting with the public and service delivery. This has been enhanced by continued research and training of owners and key team members. This will continue in perpetuity.

Visitor and participant feedback is essential to continued service and experience delivery and is used to improve and enhance the experience. Online research in relevant fields and of industry peers is conducted where ever possible. Guest suggestions are always assessed for potential positive additions to the experience.

Furthermore, key team members visit other similar or complimentary venues in Ireland and abroad during recreational time and always take note of effective and complimentary themes, practices and experiences they come across for discussion with a view to implementation at Crann Og.

11. Key Players

Marion Edler-Burke: Degree in Social Pedagogy from Fachhochschule (College) Düsseldorf, Germany 1987. Satyannanda Yoga teacher, teaching since 1996. Marion has hosted numerous Kids Eco Yoga experiences at Crann Og, the subject of previous an Eco Tourism Ireland Silver Award 2012. Marion completed her certification in Forest Schooling in 2015.

In 2016 Marion completed certified training as a Nature and Forest Therapy Guide with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapists. In March 2017 Marion was a presenter at the BurrenBeo Landscape Symposium, the topic of her presentation being Nature Therapy.

Flor Burke: General and Rural Science Teacher, qualified since 1979. Flor is widely known for his upscale recycling practices, in keeping with the policies included within this application. Flor has continued training in group facilitation work with the ManKind Project UK & Ireland, and been an integral member of the Circle of Men of Galway County and been instrumental in starting additional men’s gatherings in County Clare.

Marion and Flor have attended Burrenbeo Landscape Symposiums since 2015, including 2017 when Marion was a presenter.

Marion and Flor have jointly operated the Crann Og Eco Farm including organic food production and self motivated woodland conservation efforts. The farm and visitor facilities were designed incorporating natural sustainability principles from inception, with such packages as per the subject of this application the long term goal of the project. Strong emphasis is placed on recycling of materials and locally sourcing additional materials as required.

In 2014, Paul King and Merle Diekmann joined Flor and Marion as residential managers of the ecotourism business and associated events and products. Their role is to manage and assist in the delivery of the experiences and products while maintaining direction and compliance to certification criteria. Paul and Merle bring with them a broad range of experience covering all aspects of ecotourism and wellness products, from professional and vocational experience. They have served in a range of employed and volunteer positions within similar and complimentary facilities both in Ireland and abroad. Merle has served as Ecotourism Intern since 2014 and is currently completing studies in Sustainable Tourism Destination Management with George Washington University.

Paul authored the Application for Certification with Ecotourism Ireland in 2015 and has been instrumental in developing Crann Og Eco Farm into a popular and increasingly well known ecotourism venue and experience. Paul also developed the new Crann Og responsive website and marketing strategies, while Merle has managed all social media positioning and engagement. Together they manage the business aspects, promotion and service delivery, including volunteer programs, and assist Marion and Flor in delivery of direct customer services and experiences. Their success and efficacy in these roles has lead to them forming a freelance support service called EcoFreelance (.com & .net), specifically for back to nature, ecotourism and wellness venues and experiences.

Paul’s background includes working and volunteering at ecotourism and retreat venues in Ireland and Europe, previous experience in large project management, small business management and environmental consultancy in Australia, including land reclamation and environmental management systems, for which he gained Awards for Environmental Excellence from the Western Australian Department of Minerals and Energy in the 1990’s