AITO: The Association of Independent Tour Operators

Naturetrek Sustainability


Our sustainable Tourism Vision

At Naturetrek we have achieved AITO’s top, 5-star Sustainable Tourism accreditation and have always tried to operate our holidays in an environmentally responsible manner, striving to contribute to wildlife conservation and habitat preservation at all times. This is our detailed Sustainable Tourism Policy. It catalogues our contribution (both financial and operational) to sustainable tourism and conservation; it states our own ‘ST’ policy, and it suggests guidelines for you – the tourist – to follow whilst on holiday. Please take the time to read it carefully!

Ours is a tour company run by naturalists for naturalists. Unsurprisingly, all of us have an acute interest in conservation. Wildlife and wildlife tourism, and the need to ensure the long-term protection of species and habitats, are an important part of our lives. In the national parks and wildlife regions that we visit, we support small, locally owned hotels and lodges and the local guides and other staff in these areas. With your help and support they will flourish.

Sustainable Tourism – Our Policy
Naturetrek’s founders, staff and tour leaders are naturalists and conservationists turned tour operators, and sustainable tourism has been a key part of Naturetrek’s ethos since the company began in 1986. We are, of course, utterly dependent for the success of our business on the well-being of the world’s wildlife… and the habitats, reserves and national parks that protect it. Thus, our aims are:

- To focus, particularly, on visiting national parks, wildlife reserves and wilderness areas which, by and large, do not benefit from the rewards of mass market tourism.
- To minimise environmental impact by exploring in small groups and, as much as possible, on foot.
- To use, wherever possible, local guides… and to train them to the highest standards expected by modern-day wildlife tourists.
- To involve local communities wherever possible in our operations, and to ensure that they receive a fair share of the benefits of wildlife tourism.
- To use, wherever possible, small, locally owned, family-run accommodation, and similarly owned and operated specialist local agents/ground operators with a wildlife/conservation bias and sympathy.
- To purchase, where possible, local produce.
- To develop and commit to long-term plans to visit rural areas and support the local communities.
To contribute financially to projects local to the areas that we visit (i.e. schools, hospitals, conservation projects, etc.)
- To educate the local people on the importance and long-term benefits of wildlife tourism.
- To keep our clients well-informed on aspects of wildlife management and conservation.
- To work with British and overseas conservation organisations to develop new wildlife tourism destinations.
Where possible to run tours in partnership with conservation organisations, both to raise funds for that organisation, and to raise its profile. Such organisations include, or have included, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), International Animal Rescue (IAR), Butterfly Conservation, Zoological Society of London (ZSL), MARINElife, Birdfair, etc.
- Where possible to fund, and/or develop partnerships with, local communities and/or naturalists, in order to develop low-impact and environmentally friendly tourist facilities in exceptional wildlife areas. Koshi Camp and Suklaphanta Wildlife Camp are examples of such partnerships.
- To run our UK office (a beautiful barn conversion set amongst a 12-acre grassland site in the village of Chawton) in as energy-efficient a manner as possible.
It is our aim to encourage and develop a passion for wildlife and wild places amongst our customers (many of whom are novices, trying this form of holiday for the first time), and the conservation of them.

Sustainable Tourism Projects from Naturetrek

Rewilding 12 acres of grassland at Naturetrek HQ

The Naturetrek office is set amongst 12-acres of grassland, formally used for livestock grazing. Years of agricultural activities have reduced the site’s ecological value. During an uncertain year for travel, our pledge will focus on enhancing our site for wildlife and rebalancing nature. Creating new habitats will encourage the arrival of different species, and considered planting will enhance our site as a carbon sink, offsetting some of our in-house carbon emissions.

Prior to UK lockdown, we had already begun to enhance an existing pond, creating a wildlife haven with a bog garden and habitat for butterflies. We also uncovered a section of chalk in our field, and will monitor it for the arrival of native chalk grassland species. When we can return to our office, we will undertake a full ecological review of the site, produce a rewilding plan and implement the initiatives detailed within. Some of these include: installing Owl boxes, tree-planting, building a bug hotel, planting native hedging and creating a ‘bat garden’.

Our clients can explore the site with us during our monthly open days, enjoying the local wildlife and learning about rewilding from our in-house experts. We will provide advice and encouragement on how our clients can implement rewilding initiatives in their own gardens, so that we can work together to build a network of wildlife opportunities across the country. Our own staff can enjoy walking and wildlife watching during lunch breaks, and before and after work, enhancing both physical and mental well-being.

    Protecting Ecuadorian Cloudforest with the World Land Trust and EcoMinga

    At Naturetrek, we have been reducing the carbon impact of our clients’ flights by making donations to the World Land Trust out of our own profits since 2007. We donate £15 for every long-haul flight and £5 for every short-haul flight booked by our customers. In 2019 we asked our clients to match our donation when booking their Naturetrek holiday, and made a greater effort to promote what we are doing. We were delighted that our clients donated £11,850, bringing our total donations in 2019 to more than £53,000.

    Working together with the World Land Trust’s Ecuadorian partner, Fundacion EcoMinga, these funds will now be used to purchase and protect an additional 240 acres of critically endangered cloudforest in the Ecuadorian Andes. Ecuador is a country close to our hearts, where we’ve been operating tours since 1988, and our ‘Naturetrek reserve’ is protecting rare and endemic wildlife, preventing deforestation and locking up carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. We were delighted when a new species of frog was discovered in our reserve in the summer and officially named Noblella naturetrekii.

    As a business, this pledge has inspired us to do even more in terms of sustainable tourism. Colleagues are proud to work for a company that is leading the way in addressing the carbon impact of flying. Our clients were very receptive to hearing more about our reserve, and as the year went on we saw more choose to match our donation. Many are questioning their carbon footprint and have felt encouraged to keep travelling with us, knowing that they are booking with a responsible tour operator.

    The biggest impact of our pledge is, however, in Ecuador itself: “The biodiversity value of this land is even more important than the carbon offset. We are protecting unique endangered species here, and creating a critical link between two national parks (Sangay and Llanganates). This corridor was awarded the WWF "Gift to the Earth" eighteen years ago, and Naturetrek is now part of that.” – Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga.

    For more information please contact Kerrie Porteous, Operations Manager

    Protecting Ecuadorian Cloudforest with the World Land Trust and EcoMinga

    Naturetrek has been encouraging customers to offset their carbon emissions from flights since 2000, and since 2007 we have been making contributions at our own expense. The World Land Trust and its Ecuadorian partner, Fundacion EcoMinga, use these funds to purchase and protect critically endangered cloudforest in the Ecuadorian Andes. Over the years we have slowly but surely built up our own ‘Naturetrek reserve’, creating an invaluable forest corridor linking the Sangay and Llanganates National Parks. In 2018 our protected area was already 1,389 acres (twice the size of the City of London!).

    In 2019, we want to deepen this partnership by pledging to donate £15 for every long-haul flight and £5 for every short-haul flight booked by our customers to the World Land Trust. Over the year we aim to generate £40,000, which will enable us to protect a further 200 acres of cloudforest.

    We will also further promote our project to customers this year through our website, e-marketing and brochure. We will encourage our customers to match our donations when they book, in order to increase our funds even further. In 2018 our clients donated £402 to the WLT; we aim to increase this figure to £4,000 in 2019.

    By matching our donations our customers will be helping us to grow our ‘Naturetrek Reserve’, both locking up carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and preventing the National Parks from becoming isolated cloudforest islands, thereby protecting this valuable, extremely biodiverse habitat and its endangered wildlife.

      Protecting Europe’s Butterflies

      Amongst the 450+ wildlife holidays that we operate around the world each year, around 20 focus on butterflies. Here in the UK and across the globe the habitats that these endearing insects need are becoming increasingly fragile with constant pressures from the ever-developing world we live in. We want to do our utmost to help protect and manage these habitats which will not only benefit butterflies but the ecosystem as a whole.

      In 2017 Naturetrek will invest 10% of all income generated from our butterfly-focused holidays to the charity Butterfly Conservation. This aim in year one is to protect and effectively manage an area of the Chilterns specifically to allow the threatened Duke of Burgundy butterfly to expand its range. This work will greatly reduce the risk of further local extinctions hence ensuring this beautiful butterfly can thrive in this area. We will be funding different projects each year focusing on protecting and correctly managing habitats for different butterfly species, whilst ensuring that under Butterfly Conservation’s expert stewardship a great range of other species will also benefit. Each participant on our butterfly holidays will also receive a year’s membership to the charity, giving them the opportunity for further learning and inspiration on the conservation of butterflies. With this commitment, our Naturetrek customers will be helping to ensure that vital butterfly habitats are protected across the UK and Europe for the enjoyment of all.

      • We are supporting Butterfly Conservation via dedicated butterfly-focused tours.
      • 10% of tour income will be donated to the charity each year.
      • Projects in 2017 include management of The Chilterns for conservation of the Duke of Burgundy.