Reviewing access and equality of experience at Golitha Falls National Nature Reserve

Golitha Falls is a beautiful wooded river valley on the edge of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, UK. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and contains rare species of bryophytes but we're sure these aren't the reason most people go there. Over 70,000 people are drawn each year to the simple beauty of the place.

Despite the popularity of Golitha Falls, the mix of gradients, rough paths and lack of seating make it challenging or impossible for some, especially older and disabled people. The challenge we were given through a commission by Natural England was how to improve access so more visitors could explore the site, without reducing the special feel of the place. The work involved site reviews, discussions and consultations with local groups to gain a better understanding of how people wanted to use and enjoy the site and what was stopping them.

Group undertaking an access review of Golitha Falls nature reserve

Consulting with people to identify issues and solutions

Site assessments and discussions with site staff identified key access issues and priority areas of focus for the consultation. We prioritised the following key questions:

  • How did people want to enjoy the site? There was an assumption that everyone would want to get to the waterfall, but was this true for everyone?
  • What were the sensory highlights, especially for people not using sight as their primary sense?
  • What barriers made it difficult for people to get to and around the site? What improvements would make a difference?

older people review access at a nature reserveConsultation focused on disabled access groups, older people with dementia and young people with learning disabilities. Carers and companions were also asked to participate and to share their views. A non-user questionnaire survey was also used to find out why older and disabled people were not using the site. Natural England staff participated in some sessions, learning from feedback shared by participants and gaining experience of using the consultation techniques. The consultations, questionnaires and site reviews took place between February and June 2008.

Techniques included sensory mapping, where groups moved through the site and identified points of sensory interest – the sound of the river, a mossy bank and so on. The results were aggregated to identify areas of sensory richness. These areas would be recommended as the focus of access work, in particular seating and shelter.

Alongside the sensory mapping we also ran less formal “walk and talk” sessions in parallel and at other times when the weather was too inclement for the mapping exercises. By allowing visitors to experience the site and to describe the experience we were able to form clear impressions of many access issues, notably wayfinding at different points. We were also able to observe the relative distances many less mobile visitors would or could travel into the site.

Key findings

Enriching the visitor experience and ensuring good access to the range of experiences on offer requires an understanding of the qualities that a site offers and the different ways in which people want to use it. While this is especially valuable for people who rely on particular senses to navigate and experience the place, for example those with sensory impairments, an understanding of the sensory elements of a site can enhance the experience for all visitors.

Our report identified actions and priorities to improve the visitor experience at Golitha Falls and included a prioritised list of access and experience improvements. These ranged from relatively inexpensive improvements to information both on and off site through to major physical access improvements. The report also identified areas of rich sensory interest that could be made more accessible, for instance and area close to the entrance that could be reasonably economically improved to provide an excellent experience for people with low mobility.


Making Connections: a guide to accessible greenspace

Outdoor access design factsheets - free guidance

Access Chain - a tool for reviewing access from the user's perspective

Access statements - samples for you to use

What is inclusive design?

Accessible information design - why it matters and who it benefits

Useful links

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