The South West’s eighteen Protected Landscapes have been recognised by being awarded the “Outstanding Contribution” to Tourism accolade at the South West Tourism Excellence Awards.

The South West’s Protected Landscapes consists of 12 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), two National Parks, The South West Coast Paths, the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site and the UNESCO Global Geopark and Biosphere Reserve. None of these charge an entry fee, yet they remain one of the primary reasons why visitors choose the region as a destination, contributing significantly to the visitor economy.

The award recognises the ever-present volunteers and key staff that manage the assets of some of the regions most beautiful countryside under the constant pressures of having to retain funding in order to give visitors the best possible experience.

Julian Gray, director of the South West Coast Path Association, said: “The south west has some of the most determined and passionate people working in the industry. It was a real jewel in the crown for the South West Coast Path, National Parks and AONBs to be recognised for their contribution to tourism, which is so vital to our region.

“More than anything, this award marks a change in attitude. It shows that, as a collective, we are recognising the value of our Protected Landscapes and more importantly the need to support them.

“The South West Coast Path alone supports over 11,000 jobs and attracts over 8 million people to the region who spend more than £500 million each year. It is essential to ensure the Path and all our Protected Landscapes are adequately funded so that we can maintain, protect and improve them now and in the future.”

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has reported that parts of the country’s natural capital, including Protected Landscapes such as those in the south west, contributed £16bn to the economy in 2015, with an estimated contribution of £761bn forecast over the next 100 years.

Chris Woodruff, Manager at East Devon AONB Partnership, said: “The award is for all our teams and partners, but for me, also for all the farmers, landowners, businesses, organisations and individuals that help make these special places truly outstanding through generations of hard work and management.”

Bill Hitchins Chairman, Dartmoor National Park Authority, said: “Dartmoor has 2.4 million visitors a year, generating over £120 million for the local economy and I am delighted that the work we put into looking after the special qualities of Dartmoor for all to enjoy is recognised. We would not be able to achieve this without the hard work of all our staff and our partners, particularly the farming community, commoners and landowners.”

The full list of Outstanding Contribution to Tourism winners included: Jurassic Coast Trust, Dartmoor National Park, Exmoor National Park, Isles of Scilly AONB, Cornwall AONB, East Devon AONB, North Devon AONB, South Devon ANOB, Tamar Valley AONB, Dorset AONB, Cranborne Chase AONB, Mendip Hills AONB, Quantock Hills AONB, North Wessex Downs AONB, Cotswolds AONB, North Devon UNESCO Biosphere, English Riviera UNESCO Geopark and the South West Coast Path.