Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Clearwell Caves

  1.1  Clearwell Caves are an amalgamation of six interconnecting mine systems covering a surface area of 245 Hectares (approximately 600 acres). The caves have been tunnelled into by miners since at least the Bronze Age over 4,000 years ago until large scale mining ceased in 1945.

  1.2  In 1968 the mines were bought by Ray Wright and the first few caverns opened to the public. Over the last 32 years, the business has gradually been developed to offer a major amenity for; sightseeing tourists, mining and caving enthusiasts, military and management training organisations, schools and colleges, geologists and historians.

  1.3  In 1995 Clearwell Mine Management Ltd was formed separating operational responsibilities from property ownership which is now held by the family trust.

  1.4  Clearwell Caves are placed as the "Royal Forest of Dean's Iron Mining Museum" offering a range of activities depending upon the interest of the visitor. Activities range from a pleasant self guided walk through nine well lit caverns suitable for families, to full scale caving and military training exercises.

  1.5  The museum has been developed and owned throughout its operation by the Wright family and both the Limited company and family trust operate under their guidance today.

  1.6  There is a central core of four permanent and 15 temporary specialised and/or seasonal staff.

  1.7  Considerable experience has been gained in operating this attraction, resulting in a realistic and knowledgeable view of the tourism market and business development. Development and running of the Caves has been self funding since its founding over 30 years ago, the Caves now attract an average of 50,000 visitors a year and have become one of the foremost visitor attractions in Gloucestershire.

  1.8  Ray Wright is CEO of Clearwell Mine Management Ltd; Chair of The Forest of Dean Tourism Association; Chair of the Forest of Dean Tourism Task Group; Verderer of Her Majesty's Forest of Dean; Secretary to the Forest of Dean Free Miner's Association.


  2.1  Since the outbreak of the Foot and Mouth disease MAFF have ordered the closure of the Forest of Dean public footpaths and land having open access. The paths into the Forest have been closed using conspicuous red and white tape and prominent signs posted at the start of each route.

  2.2  On the approach roads into the Forest of Dean the A48, A40 and A4136 large sign posts have been placed advising motorists/visitors that they are entering a foot and mouth infected area.

  2.3  A large incinerating operation using the army mobile incinerating vehicles was set up on a small triangle of land with the A4136 entry into the Forest of Dean on one side and the main road into Coleford on the other. The site will be taking animals transported from parts of South Wales, Somerset and Wiltshire, as well as the whole of Gloucestershire. The smoke fumes, smell and site of the operation is highly visible to the public. Soot and debris are being spread over trees and public roads in the vicinity.[4]

  2.4  Both national and local government personnel have given unhelpful advice to the public and educational establishments that they should not arrange visits to the countryside as this may spread the disease. In particular the Gloucestershire Area Education Officer has written to all maintained schools in Gloucestershire that they must not make visits into the countryside. The result being that Gloucestershire schools cancelled all visits to centres based in the countryside.[5]

  2.5  The period up to Easter relies heavily upon visits from schools and pre-booked group visits. After Easter the general holiday season began and from when we begin to receive a mix of the general public, schools and pre-booked groups.

  2.6  Of the 58 school and other pre-booked visits due to come from 1 March when we opened until 15 April, 28 visits were cancelled. This could have been worse but we contacted as many of the schools as possible to reassure them that we were operating as usual.

  2.7  By the Easter period we were 76 per cent down on our normal income. There were virtually no members of the public visiting the Forest of Dean as the countryside was described as closed.

  2.8  Just before Easter the free ranging sheep had been culled. The Forest countryside still remains closed to access with no date yet given for the re-opening. The deer are not to be culled but apparently pose no threat to other animals. If these points are correct, it appears to be appropriate to re-open the Forest.[6]


  3.1  I believe that for visitors to have confidence in the countryside once more it needs to begin a process of re-opening. As long as there is a blanket closure of access onto the countryside people will continue to hesitate and stay away.

  3.2  If government money is provided to promote rural tourism, the money should go to the distinct areas proportionately to the number of businesses within each area. This allows each distinct area to promote its interests, but perhaps linking directly with a national campaign. Local businesses know their current circumstances and usual markets and can promote themselves more cost effectively using that knowledge.

  3.3  A marketing campaign needs to be co-ordinated both nationally (for UK holiday makers and overseas visitors) and locally (to attract the bread and butter day trip market within a 75 mile radius, which is currently absent). The two campaigns will be most effective if linked by common image and purpose. The Forest of Dean Tourism Task Group for the Forest of Dean has been created to tackle promotion during this crisis and requires funding to ensure its campaigns are effective.

  3.4  The Government could advise the media that when covering rural issues and access into the countryside that they try to avoid the impression that it is a no go area for the public. A few articles in major national papers showing positive images of rural life, tourism and businesses would do a world of good. After all people believe editorial in newspapers more than they do adverts ("they would say that wouldn't they?")


  4.1  A date could now be set for the re-opening of the Forest of Dean.

  4.2  The media need to present the countryside in a more positive manner.

  4.3  A national and local advertising campaign needs to be co-ordinated to attract UK and overseas visitors.

  4.4  The local campaign for the Forest of Dean needs to be managed through the Tourism Task Group to ensure cost effective and accurate targeting for key markets.

  4.5  Action to deal with foot and mouth should be handled more discreetly and hygienically.

April 2001

4   See article "Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Review"-13th April 2001 (not printed). Back

5   See guidance note from Gloucestershire Education Officer (not printed). Back

6   See interview with Deputy Surveyor for the Forest of Dean, `The Forester', newspaper 19th April 2001 (not printed). Back

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