Food and Photography Retreats

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We are a Scottish company limited by guarantee (SC596219) whose directors have a long-standing involvement in environmental communications and nature conservation. We host house parties for outdoor photographers in inspiring locations in Scotland, Austria and France, with a portfolio that will include Spain and Slovenia in coming years. Our approach provides participants with the photographic skills to become effective communicators and advocates on behalf of the natural world and we give priority to supporting the local economy and local producers as we deliver our Retreats.
Member since: 11 Dec 2018

How the minimum criteria of the responsible travel standard was met...

Economic responsibility

A business like this canít thrive without local input. If we want the best cheese for guests on a French Retreat, we go to the market stall, not the supermarket. If we want venison on a Scottish Retreat, we will go to the estate where they are culling or to a local butcher. If we need to know where the Apollo butterflies have been seen recently in a Tyrolean meadow, we liase with the reserve manager. Moreover, our combination of driving, guiding, teaching, hosting and cooking for up to 8 guests requires more than two people so we seek local assistance, and in the process, those people can learn our particular skills as well as receive fair remuneration.

Small businesses and nature reserves can rarely afford professional photographers to create high quality imagery to promote themselves and an important aspect of our ďgive-backĒ is in providing this to them. We donít do this for bigger businesses or NGOs, however, as that can undermine the work of local professional photographers.

Rather than using hotels, we rent large houses in which to host our guests and if there is a choice between a local or an absentee owner, all other things being equal, we use the local provider. There are practical reasons for sourcing the food we prepare and feed to guests locally. Naturally, it supports local economies but it also reduces waste as we discover the groupís likes and dislikes at an early stage during the week, and adjust our purchasing accordingly.

Environmental responsibility

†25 years as a professional wildlife photographer and writer have given director, Niall Benvie, a good knowledge of how the natural world works and the sensitivities that need to be exercised, especially when escorting groups. We therefore use paths when they exist; if we are photographing a colony of plants, we seek out specimens at the edge of it. We donít crossing fragile areas where itís easy to dislodge fine coverings of soil or vegetation. We are alert to the possibility of, for example, ringed plover nests hidden on strand-lines and divert guests away from them during the nesting season and remain alert to distress calls that may signal we are near the nests of other birds. Guests are told about puffin breeding behaviour so they understand why they shouldnít walk on areas with burrows. Taking a group to a spot where we may disturb any colony of birds puts them and their nests at risk from opportunistic predators. We are careful not to leave any scraps of food behind; in mountainous areas in particular, this can attract crows into areas where they normally arenít found, with consequences for ground-nesting birds living there. Guests are taught to read the body-language of wild mammals and birds so they can tell when the animal is getting nervous and they therefore need to back off. They are encouraged to record the name of the species they are photographing in order that they can continue learning about it after the Retreat and be informed commentators when they share their images.

Our home office is largely paper-free: all our brochures, invoices, newsletters and communications are electronic; waste and excess are not part of our culture. Waste that is generated is recycled whenever possible, be that in the office or on Retreats. All the bases we use have recycling facilities. Our vehicles are modern and fuel efficient and used for no more mileage than is necessary. Nevertheless, being part of the industrial world makes us all complicit, however reluctantly, in the problems besetting the natural world. To that end, we seek to mitigate our personal carbon debt and that of our business by supporting the restoration of peatlands in Scotland. It is estimated that Scottish peatlands store more than 25 times the amount of carbon contained in all the vegetation in the UK yet perhaps half of all the peatlands are in poor condition thanks to drainage. Restoration, which involves blocking hill drains, brings about a rapid return of the Sphagnum moss responsible for fixing carbon, restarting the process of sequestration. Unlike trees, the benefit of peatland restoration is felt for eternity. Schemes to which businesses can contribute are still quite scarce so while we seek a suitable partner we will plan about 200 trees a year on our property in France to offset our carbon debt of approximately 37 tonnes of CO2.

While water scarcity is rarely an issue in any of our destinations, we like to encourage good practice by discouraging waste. That extends to the unnecessary purchase of bottled where where the tap water is of good quality and to that end we issue guests with metal water bottles for their use during the Retreat.

Social responsibility

We think that a visit to a conservation project adds to the depth our guestsí experience of a place as well as providing an alternative perspective from the one that we can offer. We have learned too, over the years, that when strangers or foreigners show an interest in the natural history or culture of an out-of-the-way place, local people take notice in a way that they donít when local conservationists promote it. This in turn can help local advocates, something back up by providing imagery.

Before trips, we brief guests on any local sensitivities they should be alert to. That many include: different attitudes towards hunting from their own, or towards species re-introduction or to industrial developments in the area such as dams or windfarms. Occasionally there may be some political division of opinion in which case weencourage guests to take the line that they are there simply because they enjoy the nature of the place.

We make a point of taking guests to artisan producers, be they potters, spinners or food producers not only to buy local produce as souvenirs but also to hear stories and gain a deeper insight into the area.

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