One way or another, the covid-19 pandemic has meant that 2020 was a very different year for all of us. This has certainly been the case at Steart Marshes. During these extraordinary times we have managed to stay open throughout and have seen a distinct change in our visitor profile from that seen in previous years. Talking to and observing people on site, it has felt like there have been more families, more cyclists, more people walking to access the site from local villages. Also people from the Bridgwater area saying they have recently discovered Steart Marshes for the first time.
It has been great to see an increase in people using the site specifically to enhance their physical and mental health & wellbeing during these difficult times. Spending time in wetlands, or blue space, can be especially beneficial to our wellbeing, improving mood and reducing stress. There is growing evidence that spending time in these blue spaces can be even more beneficial than being in green space. Think of where we often choose to go on a day out… how many people would head to the coast, a lake, a river, a wetland to be by the water? It just makes us feel better!
We monitor visitor and vehicle numbers at Steart Marshes, not as absolute figures due to the complexities of routes and multiple entrances to the site, but we can look at trends over time. Our 2020 data shows an increase in visitors passing the people logger, but this is not backed up by an increase in numbers of vehicles using the main car park. This suggested a shift towards greater numbers of local visitors accessing the site on foot and by bike.
We also carry out an annual visitor survey. The questions are devised in consultation with our insights team at Slimbridge in order to allow certain comparisons between the 10 WWT sites around the UK. Once we have gathered a sufficient number of responses, the insights team analyse the data and present us with the results. In summary, the Steart Survey 2020 saw:
67% from Taunton, 11% from Bristol, 6% from Bath postcode areas
Interestingly, our survey results mirror what was observed by our peers at Shapwick Heath NNR over the same period, with a particular increase in family visits, local people and cyclists.
None of these results are entirely unexpected given the circumstances with the pandemic, but it has been interesting to discover that what we felt from being out and about on the ground, has been backed up by both the visitor data, and the 2020 survey results. It will be interesting to see what happens going forward when we start to bring in visitors from further afield again, yet lose a large number of people currently working and studying from home and popping out for daily exercise at Steart Marshes.