WHAT IS A GREEN FLAG TRAIL?
Green Flag Trails is a voluntary quality and sustainability eco-label for trails
Trails with Green Flag status ensures the best possible hiking experiences to hikers. Trails are however not graded subjectively from good to bad. Instead the system centres on the concept of allowing hikers, by supplying detailed information, to make their own informed decisions of the trails they’d like to walk. Green Flag Trails is thus an accreditation programme that seeks to offer hikers all the information needed to ensure the hike meets their expectations.
Contrary to other systems that make use of someone’s opinion of how a “good trail” should look like, Green Flag allows the hiker to make his/her very own assessment of what type of trail is preferred, and thus ensures a good experience.
By assessing the environmental conditions as well as safety along the trail, Green Flag ensures sustainable trails in terms of conservation of the environmental resources as well as the quality of experience had by hikers.
Green Flag accredits trails through its unique audit procedure and identifies, acknowledges and rewards those trails that demonstrate and practice responsible management.
The Green Flag trails assessment approach is based on over 15 years of study and testing in the field in South Africa, where the system originated.
Various papers have been published on the system and are available on the Green Flag Trails website.
The approach is rigorous and has been developed to offer an objective assessment of a trail that includes numerous factors and not just the trail surface and general design, but also the more subjective elements that contribute to the overall experience of trail users. (see Assessment Criteria)
While all other similar systems focus on the opinion of another person deciding for you what is a “good trail” is, the Green Flag system is based on the principle that you as prospective hiker can best decide for yourself if this particular trail is what you want – provided you are given the accurate description of all trail elements, you can make an informed choice.
Assessment Steps by a certified Accreditor run as follows:
Assesses the accommodation facilities for all luxury and normal overnight establishments. Auditor classifies them according to either luxury, comfortable, basic or rustic.
Assesses the Trail facilities and services: Booking/ reservations, vehicle parking, guiding, map, water, etc.
Auditor walks the trail:
- Registers all places of environmental neglect according to a list of 44 elements. This addresses the Bio-physical impact of hikers.
- Risk assessment. This addresses the safety of hikers by looking at the management of danger element.
- Assesses the environmental character and classifies trail as Pristine, Natural, Rural or Semi-urban. This addresses the Experiential impact, such as noise, etc. on hikers.
- Difficulty rating is calculated.
The impact on overnight establishments and its surroundings are assessed. The difficulty rating methodology uses a unique calorie approach based on the energy expended by users on the trail.
A report is presented to the trail owner/manager in which the following is included:
- Verbal description of the trail.
- Analysis of the field work sheets.
- Map indicating the location of environmental and structural problems along the path.
- Diagram that classifies the trail : it’s character, facilities, safety, difficulty, etc.
- Summary with the Results of the Green Flag inspection: Recommendations and/or reservations / requirements for improvement to attain GF status.
Feedback is sent from trail owner to GF committee addressing the requirements (if relevant).
If trail owner and the GF committee are satisfied with the feedback, the trail information is logged onto the website. www. Greenflagtrails.org
A certificate of compliance is issued; valid for a specified period.
Why quality trails matter
BENEFITS TO TRAIL USERS
Due to subjective opinions, there is no such generic concept as a “good trail”. Hikers that use Green Flag trails will however be assured of satisfying experiences as they will find the trail character and facilities exactly as advertised, safe and well managed.
It is important to select the right trail according to your specific requirements as it is a well known fact that walking in nature can have specific community enhancing values:
Increasing appreciation for, and enjoyment of nature and cultural heritage
- Green Flag thus ensures that the hiking fraternity can depend on a value-for-money product. It ensures that the hikers get precisely what they were promised – they can make a fully informed choice based on trustworthy information. Alternatively; if hikers are disillusioned they lose this potential added “quality of life “value to their experience.
Reducing stress in an over-strained community.
Improving social values for families and friends.
- Hiking, as opposed to competitive sport, enhances communication and build relationships in a relaxed atmosphere.
Ensuring a well-managed, safe hike
BENEFITS TO TRAIL OWNERS AND MANAGERS
- Trail owners will be regarded as responsible managers in case of legal action against them as they have employed professional help with the assessment of their trail. This does not imply full indemnity against all mishaps.
- With the Green Flag logo as a quality assurance mark, owners are adding credibility to their trail and making trail users aware that they have their enjoyment of a quality trail experience at heart.
- This approach will expand the trails market by means of ensuring satisfied trail users, which in turn results in sustainable income and support for the trail.
- With the assurance that a trail is safe and under responsible management, hikers will not feel apprehensive to hike unknown trails and visit foreign environments and countries.
- Green Flag Accreditation, through its unique audit procedure identifies, acknowledges and rewards those trails that demonstrate and practice responsible management, in contrast to trails which negate the enjoyable experience and safety of hikers and responsible environmental stewardship.
- Green Flag Trails gives the necessary guidelines to trail managers for maintenance and monitoring procedures of their trails so as to help conserve our natural heritage where trails pass through.
BENEFITS TO THE ENVIRONMENT
- Green Flag trails ensure the effective use of land. Large tracks of land on privately owned farms and government land lies idle as it is regarded as “unproductive ground”. These areas are often excellently suited for hiking: mountain slopes, deep valleys, indigenous forests, flood plains, riverine stretches, even marshy land. Hiking is a non-consumptive utilization of resources and provides an extra, low-investment, income to land owners.
- The concept of eco-efficiency is a recent extension of the sustainability concept…..multiple useof resources without degrading any of them; thus “adding value”. Responsible hiking trails are ideally suited for this approach.
- Green Flag monitors the extent of exotic and invasive plant species, pollution, erosion and all other environmental problems.