CAMPAIGN: Forestry Commission sets out leisure use

Last April, the Forestry Commission completed a major overhaul of Bedgebury Forest in Kent as part of a national policy to encourage leisure and recreation at its sites.

Campaign: Bedgebury – Adventure in a World of Trees
Client: Forestry Commission
PR team: In-house
Timescale: April 2006- April 2007
Budget: £24,000

The forest, which covers 2,000 acres of land, has long been an attraction for walkers and botanists, but a revamp was planned to enable the site to cater for far greater numbers. Work carried out included a new visitor centre, car parking, a picnic area, as well as tracks specifically designed for those with disabilities, mountain bike enthusiasts and children.

Objectives
To raise awareness of visitor attractions at Bedgebury among the local Kent population as well as nationally. The campaign brief particularly wanted to focus on families looking for an activity-based day out. To boost visitor numbers to more than 120,000 by the end of 2006, particularly among key groups including young families, those with disabilities, the retired and
outdoor activity enthusiasts.

Strategy and plan
The campaign strategy involved a 12-month plan centred around promoting a series of events, including a launch in May 2006 attended by the Countess of Wessex and activity dates during school holidays.

Crucial to this was building awareness among key local and national journalists – as well as those in the specialist press covering mountain biking and, as the forest is home to the National Pinetum collection of conifers, science and nature.

Forestry Commission marketing and communications officer Peter d’Aguilar said: ‘We wanted to focus on the visual appeal of the forest, which made it vital that the journalists got to see, and experience, the forest for themselves.’

Admission charges were waived for an open day in August 2006 and promotional activity included direct marketing via leaflets at local supermarkets and tourist information centres.

Measurement and evaluation
Local media coverage included 12 stories and features in among others Kent Messenger, The Kent and Sussex Courier, Evening Standard and Kent Life magazine. The BBC’s local TV news show South East Today also covered four events, including the launch day.

Nationally, BBC children’s programme Blue Peter included a segment involving tree climbing, while other national media coverage included articles in the Financial Times, The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun.

Specialist media coverage included What Mountain Bike and Mountain Bike Rider.

Results
The campaign helped the Forestry Commission beat its target for increasing visitors, with numbers rocketing from 40,000 during 2005 to 180,000 from April 2006 to April this year. The May open day attracted 3,000 visitors.

Hits to the Bedgebury home page have also increased, rising from 1,327 in March 2006, to 3,936 during the campaign launch in April 2006, and to 7,387 during April this year.

Kent and Sussex Courier’s events editor Marcel Le Gouais was one of a number of journalists who visited the forest.

‘I’ve been there a number of times now,’ he said. ‘To go there and see it for myself really helped me to get a sense of the scale of the place.’

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