Analysis: With the return of inter-county travel from May 10th meaning more trips to wild and rural places, it's a good time to think about how to staycation in a more responsible manner this summer.

As the Government recently announced the return of inter-county travel from May 10th and is continuing to advise against international travel, it is inevitable that this summer will see an internal migration en masse to our coasts. It is a good time to think about how we might staycation in a more responsible manner this summer.

Wild and rural places in Ireland are not desolate places. They are the home to wonderful nature, plants and animals, and to rural communities. Our coastal margins exist and thrive because local communities do incredible work alongside government agencies and NGOs to keep these in a 'wild' and beautiful state.

There were many lessons learned from the summer of 2020 when historically high visitor numbers were recorded on the coast. Because most campsites remained closed last summer or operated with reduced numbers, there were unintended knock-on effects which saw a huge increase in wild camping.

The increased visitor numbers and unregulated activity resulted in significant damage along Ireland’s coast such as significant littering, wildfires, and conflict between visitors, communities, and authorities.

The benefits were clear too and as the summer tourist season was saved, we saw a growth in stories of people reconnecting with nature. These are just a few of the benefits we get from our coastal habitats, and there are many more like the role coastal sand dunes play in coastal protection.

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From Radio 1's News At One,Cian McCormack talks to those in the tourism sector trying to plan for the summer season and Tourism Minister Catherine Martin on the government's plan to re-open, including a €19m investment in water activities.

The renewed appreciation for nature has also opened our eyes as to how much our natural environment underpins so much of our tourist economy. We do not want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg so here we look at some suggestions on how to staycation in a more responsible manner.

1) Be friendly with the locals.

As a nation we are world-renowned for our friendly, open and welcoming nature so let’s not forget that while we holiday at home. While local communities may be accepting of the disruption visitors cause, even those not involved in tourism, there are limits.

Allowing them a night’s sleep or a stroll without navigating a litter-strewn, local beauty spot are fairly basic courtesies we can show them.

So remember, it doesn’t hurt to be friendly, kind and considerate to your hosts. Leave No Trace: try to bring home what you brought, and keep the noise down after dark.

2) Be considerate of nature.

Coastal ecosystems are fragile and can be irreversibly damaged by sustained use. Coastal plants have adapted to harsh conditions (wind, low nutrients, salt) but they are easily damaged by our activities.

Plants that bind the sand dunes giving them strength die quickly from human trampling with some activities like wild camping, large parties, and team-training exercises can be totally devastating.

So please try to stick to trails and walkways where possible and keep in mind that dunes are like flower gardens: treat them as you would your own.

A site in Co. Kerry during summer 2020. Ensuring that rural areas are litter-free after use for locals is a basic courtesy we can show when we visit. (Photo: Maharees Heritage and Conservation)

3) Be safe

There is a delicate balance between development and keeping places ‘wild’. Limited parking and narrow country roads often lead to congested access routes for emergency services with cars and campervans roadsides parking causing life-threatening delays.

COVID has exacerbated these pressures so plan ahead by only packing things you can carry the distance between a safe parking spot and your destination. If you are young and fit, intentionally park further away and leave the closer spots for those less mobile or with young children.

After periods of dry weather, our forests, bogs, and coastal dunes are particularly susceptible to wildfires. With significant increases in wild camping, there has been more campfires getting out of control.

So maybe make a faux campfire with battery-powered fairy lights or candles to create a sociable atmosphere in a safe way.

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From RTÉ One's Six One News, half of Killarney National Park land mass damaged by wildfire.

4) Spread the load

The largest proportion of the staycation impacts are associated with people flocking en masse to the same popular destinations.

There has been a huge amount of work done on creating new hiking and heritage trails, greenways, and developing new activities, like surfing, coasteering and paddle-boarding.

These are great for families reconnecting after months ‘on screens’ in lockdown and for making new friends so see what activities an area has to offer. There are plenty of websites to help you out with this so go explore.

5) Sound intelligent to your friends

A big part of international best-practice advice for responsible tourism is about understanding and respecting new cultures. We may fall into the trap of thinking that because we are holidaying in Ireland we have nothing new to learn, but there always is.

While sitting around the campfire fairy lights and candles, you could regale your friends with stories about how the local community saved a sand dune, or how the local economy had once been based on catching basking sharks, or how a local beach suddenly reappeared after disappearing for 30 years.

So, maybe avail of those locally-led biodiversity walks and events, take time to read the heritage boards, or simply chat with the locals over the hedge.

In the end we can sum this up quite easily:

"It doesn’t hurt to be friendly, kind and considerate to both your hosts: Nature and communities."


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ