England is a land of beautiful landscapes beloved by painters such as Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable. Hikers find it one of the most rewarding terrains in Europe. So it only makes sense that long before most of the world became concerned with ecotourism, England took strides to maintain its "greenness."
More than three dozen districts of England have been designated as areas of natural beauty; in addition, England boasts 10 national parks, 12 national trails, and a protected coastline that stretches for miles and miles, including around the entire peninsula of Cornwall. Visitors in search of green spaces can choose from rolling hills, moorland, vast parks such as that in Derbyshire, and even huge "green lungs" in such city centers as London. For more information about these areas from Yorkshire to the West Country, go to www.enjoyengland.com.
If you'd like to explore the national parks, the best source of information is the Association of National Park Authorities at 126 Bute St., Cardiff CF10 5L3, in Wales (tel. 029/2049-9966; www.nationalparks.go.uk). This organization provides information for both Wales and England, from the Yorkshire Dales to Snowdonia in the north of Wales.
A trio of national parks in Wales covers around 20% of the land mass of this tiny country. With the addition of the South Downs and the New Forest, designated for preservation in 2011, 10% of the land mass in England and Wales combined will be part of the national park system.
Park officials offer advice on hiking and camping, and will steer you to festivals or special events being staged.
The Great Outdoor Recreation Page (www.gorp.com) offers the best and most up-to-date information on camping and otherwise getting the most out of the English countryside.
Before you go to England, contact Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethnics (P.O. Box 997, Boulder, CO 80306; www.int.org). It has drawn up a code for outdoor travelers to protect unspoiled landscapes, such as those found in the English countryside.
The Green Tourism Business Scheme (www.green-business.co.uk) lists numerous eco-friendly farmhouses, B&Bs, and lodges throughout England and Wales; many have received awards for their environmentally sensitive accommodations.
Another source for environmentally sensitive hotels is It's a Green Green World (www.itsagreengreenworld.com). It previews green accommodations throughout England, ranging from an organic farmhouse B&B in the east of England dating from the 19th century to an eco-friendly manor house on the North Norfolk coastline. Visitors can even rent English "eco cottages" that are powered by the wind and sun.
Those who want to further reduce the size of their carbon footprint can travel through England on bike. For details on cycling through England, contact U.K.'s National Cyclists Organization at their national headquarters at CTC, Parklands, Railton Rd. Guildford, Surrey GU2 9JX (tel. 0844/736-8450; www.ctc.org.uk).
If you don't want to explore green England on your own, you can take part in an eco-friendly tour. Ranging from canoeing to kayaking, from mountain climbing to archaeological digs, the best source for organized adventure trips is Specialty Travel Index, P.O. Box 458, San Anselmo, CA 94979 (tel. 888/624-4030; www.specialtytravel.com). The group's round-up of trips has been praised by Condé Nast Traveller. Under "British Connection" (www.thebritishconnection.com), you'll find garden tours, literary tours (Jane Austen to Agatha Christie), and various history and archaeological tours, including one that grants private access to Stonehenge.
The true green traveler, who wants to leave England's environment better than he or she found it, might want to contact Volunteering England (tel. 0845/305-6979; www.volunteering.org.uk), the best source for volunteer projects. The outdoors traveler will be especially interested in the group's efforts to save both the landscapes and wildlife of North England, an area facing depopulation of certain species and in serious danger of forest erosion.
Before you commit to a volunteer program, it's important to make sure any money you give is truly going back to the local community and that the work you'll be doing will be a good fit for you. Volunteer International (www.volunteerinternational.org) has a helpful list of questions to ask to determine the intentions and nature of a volunteer program in England.
Tourism Concern (www.tourismconcern.org.uk) works to reduce social and environmental problems linked to tourism in the U.K. The Association of Independent Tour Operators (www.aito.co.uk) is a group of specialist operators leading the field in making U.K. holidays sustainable.
Finally, the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA; www.abta.com) acts as a focal point for the U.K. travel industry and is one of the leading groups spearheading responsible tourism in Britain.
Rambler's Right of Way -- One of the most sustainable ways to explore England is on foot, and doing so was made easier in 2000, when the country passed the Rights of Way Act, granting countryside ramblers access to open land even if it is held by a private owner. Of course, all walkers must leave the land as they find it, including carrying out all trash and personal belongings.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.