Green Tourism, Eco Tourism, Ethical Tourism – all these are increasingly popular terms, as awareness of the need for more environmentally aware accommodation and travel is gradually making its way into the mainstream. Of course, the availability of cheap air travel, and our love of fossil fuel powered transport in general have contributed significantly to the position we now find ourselves in. One where climate change is poised to reach a tipping point from which there is little chance of recovery. Despite this,it is vital to encourage as many people as possible to make changes to their behaviour, and green tourism has its part to play.

Here at Lackan Cottage Farm, green tourism is more than a yearly inspection and a certificate. Yes, we are part of the Green Tourism scheme and are a Gold rated property, but this is because the required measures are part of our everyday lives, and integral to the experience we offer here. We’re also proud to be pioneering the Green Key scheme in Northern Ireland, which is one of the most stringent such schemes in existence.

What makes us different is that visitors find that we practice what we preach, and what we have to offer is experiential environmental education. Many who come to stay here want to know more about practical ways to make their lives more sustainable, and we are able to show them practical solutions, from solar power, to waste sorting, to choosing harmless paints. Off grid living is frequently portayed as extreme – the image of the candle lit woodland shack comes to mind – but that need not be so, and we offer a vision of sustainable living that uses a variety of relatively simple solutions to reduce our impact, whilst maintaining a more familiar way of life.

If we are to adapt with our changing climate, changing environments and circumstances, significant changes will be needed, and we are providing visitors with a chance to experience some of those, so that they can take them back to their everyday lives. The challenge for us is to provide this opportunity and at the same time, minimise the impacts of visitors coming here. For instance, we are continually planting trees in order to offset the carbon emissions of our visitors, encourage them to buy local food and minimise packaging and waste. We use only renewable energy on site, as well as our own wood fuel, and we are investigating small scale biogas production.

All of these mean that Birch Eco Cottage and the Off Grid horse box are possibly the most environmentally sustainable self catering accommodation in Northern Ireland, and currently the only accommodation offering environmental education.