Biodiverse Glamping - Pete Wharton and Matt Wall
On our 6th episode we are joined by environmental experts Pete Wharton and Matt Wall of Wharton Natural Infrastructure Consultants.
We talk about why glamping site owners should care about the natural areas that surrounded their site and how they can protect them. We also discuss the financial benefits of creating an eco-friendly site and the potential effects the Environment Bill could have on prospective glamping site owners.
If you’re passionate about the environment, you’ll love this. If you’re less passionate about this particular issue, we urge you to give this episode a listen. It might just change your perspective.
We hope you enjoy.
Pete Wharton: 0:08
Yes, it’s quite an exciting growth sector. It’s also, at this particular point in time, one of the most talked about sectors, I would have thought within planning context. Because we’re at a crisis point in terms of the environment.
Matt Wall: 0:22
The Environment Bill, sorry, will be mandating biodiversity net gain in planning permissions, you’ll need to have a 10% uplift and in your biodiversity for the site.
Pete Wharton: 0:36
That’s what you’re trying to create for people is a, an environment that they don’t forget. And that they want to keep on returning to, particularly in the hospitality industry, because it’s returning and recommendation. That kind of thing creates traction for it to grow.
Nick Purslow: 0:57
Hello, and welcome to the Glampitect podcast. Today, we’re joined by Pete Wharton and Matt Wall of Wharton Natural Infrastructure Consultants, we had a really good chat on why glamping site owners should care about the environment, what they can do to preserve the surrounding natural areas and wildlife, and also the environment bill, which is a proposed piece of legislation all prospective glamping site owners need to be aware of if implemented. These guys are the absolute experts when it comes to biodiversity ecology and all things environmental. So this episode will be of particular value to anyone who has a similar interest in those subjects and wants to implement them in their glamping site. As always, I hope you find it useful. And don’t be afraid of getting in touch if you have any further questions. So you guys are at wharton natural infrastructure consultants, which according to your website, is a company that are topographical surveyors tree and ecology consultants and landscape architects. And I personally don’t have a clue what half of that means. So for the benefit of me and the audience, would you mind just giving a brief rundown of what you you do as a business really, in simple terms?
Pete Wharton: 2:03
Yeah, absolutely. Fine. Yeah. Thanks for having us on today, Nick. It’s a real pleasure to be speaking to you on this podcast. So wharton natural infrastructure we’re in, in essence, we’re environmental consultants, and we specialise in looking, I suppose, in the simplest terms, anything that moves, whether it be creepy crawlies or grows in terms of trees, in clumps, we do topographical surveys, as you said. So that’s looking at kind of what the state of land is at that current particular time. And then we assess trees and ecology primarily, to aid development, but also to enhance development. And then the landscape element is really the design word that comes afterwards in terms of creating semi natural and natural environments where people want to live, work and play.
Nick Purslow: 2:52
So, Pete, you’re the director and founder, I believe. So could you just give us a run through of what you do? And then afterwards, Matt, what you do specifically at the business?
Pete Wharton: 3:01
Yes, so I founded the business in 2008, three weeks before the previous recession, which we weren’t to know about at that point in time. So going through the current kind of a COVID pandemic is not a completely new experience. In terms of the recession part. We found it purely in 2008 for aboriculture. So looking at trees in the mainly in the urban setting. And then developing grew fairly kind of organically, to then encompass ecology and ecology and trees fit very well together to start employing people around about six years ago, and we’ve grown the business now to we’ve actually just appointed a new person today who’s accepted the job. So that takes us up to 10 people with the company. Yeah, so it’s quite an exciting growth sector. It’s also at this particular point in time, one of the most talked about sectors, I would have thought within planning context because we’re a crisis point in terms of the environment. And the ethos is really how do we look at improving the environment to create better places, ultimately. And I’m sure yourself, Nick, and Matt, and most other people will have only appreciated the green space that they’re surrounded by this point in time. And how we use it, which is different probably to what we used it six or 12 months ago. So yeah, so my main focus is really driving the business growing it and ensuring that the team kind of really functional,
Nick Purslow: 4:37
Nice, and you, Matt?
Matt Wall: 4:39
Yeah, so I’m Senior ecologist, and team leader for the ecology team. I primarily work with housing developers, commercial developments, all kinds actually, and effectively, make sure that they’re compliant with all the relevant wildlife legislation. And planning policy. So looking at things like protected species, bats, great crested newts, all the things developers don’t want to hear. And you know, things like breeding birds and that sort of thing, and also protected habitats, and wildlife sites, that sort of thing. So it’s quite interesting work, get to see some really, really interesting things, and then sort of have to convey the interesting things you found to your clients and let them understand exactly what the implications of that are. But yes, I’ve been doing it for just over eight years, started with Wharton about four years ago. Just sort of run by the ecology team. Since then, we’ve grown to a team of three, they’re looking to hire again, hopefully early this year. And yeah, it’s it’s it’s going really well, so far. We’ve grown grown really well. And we’re getting some really interesting clients and really interesting projects, too.
Nick Purslow: 5:56
So clearly, both yourselves and the business as a whole are driven massively by a passion for the environment and sustainability and biodiversity. Where did again, start with Pete and then go on to Matt, where did that passion come from?
Pete Wharton: 6:11
For me, it started when I was 16, as a complete accident, but I think if you, if you speak to any of arboriculturist, anywhere, they haven’t got into the industry on purpose, it’s not there’s no real direct route into the industry, which is something that as an industry we are working on. My inherent passion probably came from a very young child of climbing trees falling out of trees getting dirty and not having computers to play on, which is slightly different to now. Yes, I started climbing. And I think that’s where the excitement comes from, isn’t it when you’re when you see tree surgeon swinging around in trees, it looks pretty fun. And it’s a great career and kind of you end up growing that passion, and just getting things done correctly. And then I’ve moved into the more kind of office based role of surveying and also writing reports for local government, and then private consultants as well. So I think there is an inherent passion there. And I think everybody within the company probably also has that inherent kind of passion, like, I can already see that been instilled into my children as well who are fairly similar to myself, in terms of climbing trees and everything else.
Nick Purslow: 7:21
And Matt, where did your passion start for the environment?
Matt Wall: 7:25
Pretty young again, I think my probably from my mom and dad taking me around sort of National Trust places and walks and things when I was a kid. I’ve got vivid memories of walking through grasslands, finding little shield bugs, and then my mama like this Collins Gem book, bugs, it’s essentially bugs and insects, and we’d go through it and see what insect it was. So yeah, I think that that from an early age, I’ve always been interested in wildlife in the outdoors. And like Pete said, I there was a cherry load at the bottom of my garden when I was growing up, and I’d be climbing that most days trying to see how high I can get causing my mom all kinds of headaches, I’m sure. And but yeah, I’ve just always been, you know, it wasn’t I wasn’t one of those kids where, you know, you hear a lot of outdoors people saying, Oh, I didn’t really fit in at school. I didn’t do too well. But I always wanted to be outside. I was actually I was alright at school. I didn’t find school that bad. But I always knew I wanted to be outside. So yeah, I think ecology I just sort of ended up going from A Level Biology and then looking at uni did a course on conservation and medical masters. Yeah, my mom and dad are pretty much to blame. I’m sure Steve Irwin and David Attenborough got a bit to be responsible for as well. And but yeah, it’s just that that sort of mom and dad getting me outside and appreciating the outdoors from that early age, I guess.
Pete Wharton: 8:53
That’s quite interesting, as well, as I think we’re seeing, particularly in the pandemic, at the moment, a lot more families spending time outside. And I wonder how much more influence that would have on the next generation of people coming through actually, who have a complete respect for the environment as opposed to destroying it. Ultimately, I think there’s going to be a lot more people thinking, Well, actually, it’s really important that we do look after what we’ve got. Yeah, so I think there’s gonna be a lot of benefits from the pandemic. For that it’s a, it’s a similar thing I think that happened in, in every crisis, something positive will come through from it. And I was only discussing this with somebody the other day, where you look at how the NHS formed, it was through a crisis, and I wonder whether the pandemic will create that need for better environments?
Nick Purslow: 9:43
Absolutely. So I can when you when you’re both talking about how you became passionate for these sort of issues, I can see you’re both smiling. It’s almost you know, it’s quite infectious when you’re talking about it when you’re clearly so passionate about it. Why should glamping site owners in particular or anyone in the hospitality industry have a similar passionate about it? And yeah, what why should they care so much about the environment?
Pete Wharton: 10:06
Actually being a kind of a passionate camper myself, yeah, having a camper, van and tents and everything else. It’s something that I’ve done for years. And we do as a family now. And actually part of camping, I think, to a lot of people is actually getting and reconnecting to nature. And it’s not about just going into the biggest fields, you can find them pitching a tent, wherever you can do, it’s really kind of you want to be surrounded by a well managed, kind of environment. And I think there’s a real inherent connection between the two things. So kind of go, you go on to some sites, and you might find there’s lots of concrete and a lot of roads and everything else. But actually, it could be so much better. So I think there is that reconnection, there’s also this the whole thing around, it’s becomes a completely relaxing environment. And that’s ultimately I would have thought from glamping. That’s what you’re trying to create for people is a, an environment that they don’t forget, and that they want to keep on returning to, particularly in the hospitality industry, because it’s that returning and recommendation, that kind of thing creates traction for it to grow. So I think there’s a huge thing around actually the setting of somewhere. I know personally, if I want to go for a city break, then I’ll go and find a city with good architecture, because I want to go and see that if I want to go into the countryside to go camping or glamping. I want to be in really good surroundings, with nature.
Nick Purslow: 11:36
Nice, and Matt, any thoughts on why you think it’s so important that people care about the environment with a particular slant on glamping?
Matt Wall: 11:43
Yeah, I think I think broadly to echo Pete’s point, really, you know, you don’t go glamping to go walking around the shops do you, you probably go glamping because you want to be outside, you want to reconnect with nature, you want to see some interesting natural things, again, I go for nice woodland walks. And I think, you know, glamping site owners and people who are looking to develop those have a bit of a responsibility to make sure that the natural area that they’re putting their business on, which you know, that you’re essentially profiting from the natural world, and people wanting to explore that you’ve got real opportunity there to do the best that they can to really reconnect people with nature, you know, have some really interesting, you know, there’s a couple of 100 sites, I’ve seen recently where they’ve got some bird hides, and things like that. So there’s habitat around the corner that’s really good for birds. So they encourage bird habitat. And, you know, if you know, if you know what you’ve got on your site, or what you’ve got around there, then you can create some really good opportunities for people to get that passion that I got when I was a young kid. And really get them to engage with nature. I think that’s, that’s one of those critical things glamping can can provide.
Nick Purslow: 13:02
A common theme between both your answers there is that is one of the best things about glamping, if it’s done right, is that it is situated right in the natural world, as opposed to just a bit of grass isn’t really enough, you know, a bit of grass on some form of playing field isn’t really glamping it’s being able to be close to the animals, the plants, and all that sort of thing. How do you do ensure that the let’s say you’re setting up you want to set up a glamping? site, how do you ensure that it is an authentic natural experience rather than something artificial? And how do you preserve the surrounding ecology of the place?
Pete Wharton: 13:40
I think it goes back to the point that Matt was making earlier on is it’s the baseline data is understanding and actually also having kind of that collaborative approach in terms of a team. So it’s having somebody who understands the ecology, understanding what trees are there. And actually, what do they look like now what they’re going to look like in 10, 20 years time. And then it’s also understand the landscape that you got right in front of you to, and it needs to be a landscape led approach. So then you’ve you’re basically, it’s almost as though you’re dropping your glamping pods into what is already there. And they they’re almost concealed by the landscape, I would have thought would create a fairly special atmosphere. I’ve been to a few of these sites. And when they get it right, it, not only is it a much nicer place to go to, but it’s also you can charge more to be there, ultimately, which is probably fairly important to the business part of it as well. But I think it’s that baseline data. Would you say on that as well, Matt?
Matt Wall: 14:39
Yeah, I think it I think broadly speaking in terms of being able to enhance the surrounding environment, it falls largely down to site selection and how flexible you are in the design. I think if you if you have a site in mind, and you’ve got a fixed design, then you know if we were then I have to try and work around that design. Whereas if if there’s a site selected, and you say, you know, X number of pods on here, we can work around and find the least environmentally damaging option. In essence, and, and then also identify those areas where you’ve potentially got more, you know, ecological interest that the users of the site ultimately will want to be engaging with, and how best you can enhance those opportunities through sort of proactive management. And also visitor management as well. You know, there are some habitats where you might not want people trampling all over him, but you still want to encourage that connection to it. So it’s just how you go about managing those sort of potential conflict areas. And really sort of identifying from that earliest stage, what you’ve got, and way way you can put things where you can enhance, so it’s yet critically really sort of site selection, and flexibility and design approach, I think.
Nick Purslow: 16:01
Well, I’m no planning expert, but I’m trying to imagine what the planning experts at Glampitect will be saying, if they’re in my position now. And I imagine it is more difficult to get planning permission on the really green areas with, you know, maybe where they’re running conservation programmes and things like that. So first of all, is that the case? And second of all, if it is, how do you go about adapting to that and trying to get planning permission for those sort of areas?
Matt Wall: 16:29
I mean, yeah, if you’ve got an area of land that’s of a higher conservation value than it is going to be more difficult to get, you know, change of use and land in pipes and things on that site, because the environmental impacts is going to be higher. And there are obviously ways to work around around it in terms of your construction methods. So how are you going to? How are you going to instal the pods. And also, it’s about whether you can offset any impacts to another area by enhancing that area. So it’s all comes down to what we’re talking about in terms of by biodiversity net gain, in the environment bill later, but you know, if you’re going to have an impact, ideally, what you will need to avoid impacts to things like irreplaceable habitat. So if you’ve got an ancient woodland and things like that, then obviously those those sort of areas are a no go for development. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t encourage visitors to enjoy those areas. You just have to make an assessment of what what happens as you’re going to be affecting with the pods, and the construction and things like that, because obviously the construction footprints, the plant machinery and things could be a lot bigger than your actual your glamping pod footprint. So you just need to be mindful of how you’re going to construct things have a really rigorous approach to minimising that impact as best as you can. And then ultimately try and provide a site and this this falls into the landscaping detail element to an extent, you know, what’s this site going to look like? So we’ve got, we might have some relatively moderately important habitats. But in the long term throughout productive management of the site, you can end up with some really good, really good environmental schemes.
Nick Purslow: 18:18
So just before we move on to the discussion of legislation, is there anything else? Pete, I think you wanted to say one more thing on advice that you would give to glamping site owners or prospective glamping site owners when it comes to making sure that their sites are eco friendly?
Pete Wharton: 18:35
Yeah, I think it’s about planning and actually looking at what is the 5, 10, 15 year plan for a site. Because if you’re looking to make a glamping site, simply just to make some cash relatively quickly, because it’s the in the trendy thing to be doing at the moment is going camping, there’s going to be a lot more staycation, then, in terms of the environment is going to have less impact. But I think if you’re looking at it from a long term perspective, there are certain sites that I know of, where they really look at it, and they implement it over a period of years. So they might choose one thing each year to go and improve. And actually, through having a plan behind it, they can kind of budget for it, and actually make the whole place look look completely different over a period of time and make huge benefits to the environment. I think, as we’ve already said, like glamping is so inherently linked with nature that I think you do need to plan behind it and identify exactly what you want to achieve from the site. And I think part of that process is engaging with the right person. So having an ecologist from the outset, having a landscape architect from the outset, because without those things, actually, you’re left in a bit of an unknown and either it’s going to get questioned when it goes through planning or and you’re gonna have to redesign everything anyway. Or you could just do it straight away and actually make it far more beneficial place it’s gonna command I suppose ultimately a better a better footfall and also more high prices.
Nick Purslow: 20:02
And imagine where the vast majority of your drive to do this is, is the moral aspect of protecting the environment. But I suppose glamping site owners can also use it as a selling point, really, if they if you if they do a really good job of preserving the surrounding area, and just in general, protecting the environment and biodiversity. It will appeal to people who are particularly passionate about those sorts of things, of which there are more and more people as we move forward. And so, you know, almost as a good marketing tool, just say, look, we really do care about the environment, and those who who are similar should come and stay with us.
Matt Wall: 20:41
Absolutely. I mean,if you look at the Knepp Estate, for example, you know, massive rewilding scheme, the biggest rewilding scheme in the UK, they’re one of the biggest conservation attractions in the UK, and they’ve got, you know, kept wild camping down there. And it is really successful. It’s a book that was published by Isabel Tree, called Wilding. I don’t know if either of you have read it, but really good book, I’d recommend any of your listeners to have a read of it, it talks about how they’ve basically taken agricultural land that wasn’t particularly productive into what is like I’ve already said that one of the biggest freewilding schemes in the UK, and how successful it is as a commercial enterprise as well. So the two can coexist. And it’s just making people aware that they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. It can be a really big selling point.
Pete Wharton: 21:31
Yeah, I think I think Yeah, and I think a lot of these places kind of rely on kind of really up to date information in terms of how they promote their, their kind of areas where you’re going to stay. So so many of them are using social media, to us basically, their main platform. And actually, the best pictures come from I know, there’s a place in Mid Wales called Fforest Fields, which is a site we regularly go to, but most of their work is done looking through nature towards either their glamping pods or the camper vans that are on the site, what have you. And actually, it’s just a huge selling point. And it doesn’t matter what time of year. And I think in terms of that colour seasonality of what nature brings, as well, there are different parts of time where you might say, well, if you want it, if you’ve got like a particular bat roost or something like that, within the area, and you know, you’re going to see it at certain times, then you could actually almost promote that as a thing to be doing at the at the site, or whether it’s nesting birds, as Matt said, whether it be a deer population, or wild flowers and what have you. So you can actually use it as a seasonality element because people will have certain interests. So I think there’s a huge, huge potential really to push the nature-based thing.
Nick Purslow: 22:47
So moving on to a proposed piece of legislation that’s going through at the minute the environment bill, I believe it’s been delayed a few times and put on the back burner because of COVID and various things. Matt, I think you’re the expert on this, could you give us a run through of the I think you’re specialising in the the biodiverse elements of it, and what what it means in general, but also what it means specifically for people like prospective glamping, site owners who want to set up a glamping site, what it will mean for them and their plans?
Matt Wall: 23:20
Yeah, absolutely. So the sort of key element of the environment bill that I deal with, or will be dealing with is biodiversity net gain, which is essentially the principle of leaving a site or project in a better condition for biodiversity than when you started. And so it’s trying to find ways to enhance that natural environment. And the environment bill, sorry, weill be mandating biodiversity net gain in planning permissions. And you’ll need to have a 10% uplift in your biodiversity at the site. It’s basically measured through through a metric, which is a spreadsheet for all intents purposes. And so you look at what habitats you have at the site before you start. And then they’re attributed essentially values based on their their rarity in their condition. And you end up with a number at the end of that assessment. And what you need to do is then calculate what habitats you’re putting in as part of your development. What you’re going to be managing and things like that, and how you’re going to achieve that 10% uplift. So it is is essentially it does come down to numbers, but there are other elements in that in terms of looking at, you know, how you can improve things for species and habitat connectivity and all that sort of thing. So will be mandated, there’ll be a they’re looking I think, later this year, I think it’s summer now they’re looking for the bill to get Royal Assent and there will be a two year transition period. So sort of summer 2023 is when they will come into effect. Local planning authorities will have a bit of an uphill struggle, I think some of them trying to implement all the things that need to be done to facilitate that. And but So it goes back to what Pete was saying in a way in terms of the essentially, it will mean that there’ll will be a condition which requires a biodiversity net game plan to be submitted. So that’s something that they really need to be aware of. And getting an ecologist in, I know I’m an ecologist so it sounds like I’ve got a bit of a vested interest in this. But you know, it is it is going to be fundamental, because there will be, you know, if you can’t deliver net gain on your site, or on your land ownership, there will be financial implications for it, because it will end up being, you know, financial contributions, to create habitat elsewhere. And I think this is where, you know, glamping developers have a really good opportunity, because quite often there’s there’s land available, you know, it’s either within the ownership of the applicant, or you’re on our site where you won’t be developing all of the pods, some of it will be, you know, maybe like woodland or, or things like that. having a management plan, because it will need to be secured for a third minimum of 30 years any biodiversity net gain habitats. So it gives that long term view for landowners and developers, right, you know, what habitats have we got? How are we going to manage them? How much is that going to cost us? Because now 30 years of management, when you look at it as a single field, it could be quite big. So it’s having that understanding of financial contributions from management and upkeep and habitat creation, it’s going to be quite quite a big consideration, and getting people in early to look at what you’ve got, before you start looking at plans and things is going to be really critical for developers.
Nick Purslow: 26:51
Do you see it being a net positive thing for the environment as a whole?
Matt Wall: 26:56
Yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, if it’s, if it’s done correctly, and all the all the relevant pieces, you know, secondary legislation and the tools that developers need everyone in place, I think it’s gonna be really positive for biodiversity, you know, we will everyone’s aware of the decline, and how important it is to try and get us back from the brink, essentially. And I think this can only be a positive thing, you know, if people are having to every development has to improve by 10%. That could be in the long term that could be massive. Right?
Nick Purslow: 27:29
And so with this new environment bill, there’s the possibility of glamping sites or anyone potentially buying, is it biodiversity credits?
Matt Wall: 27:39
Yes. So if, if obviously, the it’s a slightly complex issue. But if the glamping landowner, for example, has, you know, a plot of land that they’re not using for development, and it’s essentially spare land that they’re not not utilising, they can look at speaking to their local planning authority, and contributing that habitat towards habitat creation for a net gain in that district or in that county.And that can potentially be a stream of income for the landowner. Because they’ll, they’ll find out what they’ve got what they can create, in that area, have a chat with the local planning authority about what sort of costs that would that would look like. And then if a developer in the area can’t achieve net gain on their site, and they need to buy credits, somewhere else to get that net gain, then that land can form part of that, that credit page is effectively so it could be it could also be a stream of income for landowners as well, that’s worth thinking about.
Nick Purslow: 28:43
So finally, Pete, you’ve just started, you started a podcast at a similar sort of time to was, you got a similar number of episodes out, it’s called nature’s architects. So could you just give us a rundown of what that is? And who might be interested in that, please?
Pete Wharton: 28:57
Yeah, thanks for the introduction on that. Yeah. So we started it at the start of this year after a lot of procrastination on my part. But it’s called nature’s architects. And it’s a theme that runs through because actually, nature doesn’t really have a voice. And so we kind of see ourselves as the architects for them, to enable people to develop around them retain important natural infrastructure, but also enhance it as well. And it’s really aimed at anyone who has an interest in trees ecology, landscape design, particularly from a planning perspective. So where you get the natural world and built environment, working together, so we interview and speak with planning consultants, architects, ecology professionals, tree professionals, landscape architects. Yeah, so it’s quite an interesting topic and it kind of leads to anywhere and it can be anything from health and well being and the impact trees and natural environment has on health and well being through to looking at major development and infrastructure schemes and the impact they have on the environment and how we can enhance it. So that’s a probably a fairly good overview of of what we’re discussing on it. Yeah.
Nick Purslow: 30:08
And of course, we’ll put links to that podcast in the description, we’re all friends here. So no rivalry.
Pete Wharton: 30:14
And we’re looking forward to getting you guys onto our podcast as well to kind of understand a bit more about Glampitect themselves and actually what you’re doing and how it works with the natural environment really.
Nick Purslow: 30:29
Thank you for listening to today’s episode of the Glampitect podcast. Don’t forget to leave a rating and review and we look forward to seeing you next week.
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