We are delighted to announce that Becca Huggins has won the 2016 Landscape Institute Student Travel Award. The award gives landscape students the opportunity to travel anywhere in the world to develop their knowledge on a specific landscape topic which interests them. Students have to come up with an original, well researched and achievable proposal, outlining the topic they want to learn about and where they wish to travel to. The award is a significant and well deserved achievement for Becca, who is a valued member of the Landmark team. She describes below what prompted her to apply for the Award.
Through working as a ‘year out Landscape Architect’ with The Landmark Practice I have been exposed to many interesting international projects that promote development and protect the natural environment. Among these is Landmark’s work on the culturally and naturally significant landscape in Aljoun, Jordan, which is under immense pressure from development and inappropriate management. This work included detailed surveys and landscape assessments to underpin a Development and Preservation Plan which was the first of its kind in the country. Other examples are significant projects for environmental protection in St Lucia and at Wudalianchi in China.
This inspiration motivated me to apply for the Landscape Institute’s Student Travel Award 2016. I have been lucky enough to win £750 to travel to Mexico to study sustainable tourism in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve.
I want to explore how sustainable tourism and landscape management can be used together to drive protection of ecologically vulnerable systems. After researching places noted for their effective sustainable tourism philosophy I came across the Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda (Ecological Group Sierra Gorda). This not-for-profit organisation was the 2016 Winner of the National Geographic’s ‘World Legacy Award for Conserving the Natural World’, which recognises them as leaders of sustainable tourism whose work has been a significant part of securing the Sierra Gorda Biosphere as a ‘Biodiversity Hotspot’.
The group was founded in 1978 to provide solutions to poverty, climate change and biodiversity conservation through sustainable tourism. They have achieved this by diversification of opportunities, training and educating both tourists and local communities on the importance of healthy ecosystems and how to conserve them. Part of the Group’s success stems from the co-operative landscape orientated model that they have adopted. By creating a supportive network of 83 small ecotourism businesses, they have created a ‘conservational economy’ which encourages community ethos with practical insights and objectives. I want to learn about the organisational structures that led to this great success and think about how these techniques could improve sustainable tourism elsewhere.
I am also going to visit the Mariposa Monarca Reserve Mountains to see the migration of millions of Monarch Butterflies. This incredible experience comes at a price and is testing the limits of sustainable tourism. The area is very heavily visited and concerns have been raised about damage caused to the environment by increasing tourism. Visiting different sites for comparison will help me question how landscape management and sustainable tourism can be mutually beneficial, and how they cannot.
I will be organising and conducting more research in the coming months into the location and subject matter, and thinking about how I personally can travel responsibly. I have started learning Spanish, and am considering what the best transport options are. I encourage others to follow the nomadic code ‘take only photos leave only footprints.’
Poverty and governmental restrictions can make conservation difficult, particularly when tourism is involved. The work of the Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda is a great testament to how passion and commitment can overcome difficult conditions and sometimes unsupportive governance. I hope that this research will enable me to spread the word about positive sustainable tourism despite poverty, and how benefits and rewards from effective landscape management can be simultaneously achieved.
For more information see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sierra_Gorda