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Faroe Islands diary: salvation through sustainable tourism



It was 7am and the sun in Gjógv, on the northern tip of the Faroe Islands, was peering through the clouds on the horizon, casting a yellowy-orange glow over the island of Kalsoy in the distance. It had been raining overnight, with the early morning rays reflecting off the dew-covered grass.

The striking landscape outside my window was more akin to Narnia or Middle Earth. And despite a long first day in the Faroes, mostly spent walking and travelling, it was unsurprisingly an even more attractive option than sleep.

After a breakfast at the Gjáargarður guesthouse made up of assorted bread, cheese and meat, I met with Olga Biskopstø, head of the government-funded Útoyggjafelagið, also known as the Outer Islands Association. The Faroe Islands consists of 18 separate islands, and the smallest eight – Fugloy, Svínoy, Kalsoy, Mykines, Koltur, Hestur, Skúvoy and Stóra Dímun – form part of the coalition.

Whereas the main islands are connected by bridges and underwater tunnels, these eight are only reachable by boat or helicopter. There are few jobs (most are farmers) and even fewer services – meaning the islands’ 200 or so inhabitants are often forced to travel elsewhere for work and supplies.

Stóra Dímun, for example, one of the smallest islands in the Faroes, has only one family – a brother and sister, their spouses and children. The children are taught partly on the island and partly via Skype (incidentally, the internet connection and mobile phone network across the country are generally very good).

While this way of life may have once been unavoidable across the Faroe Islands, better and cheaper transport links, and a greater need for employment, means families are moving elsewhere – perhaps to the country’s capital, Tórshavn, or worse: abroad. Population across the outer islands therefore declined by an incredible 40% between 1999 and 2010 (though the Faroese population overall has been fairly stagnant – and if anything, grown – over the past few years).

The Outer Islands Association was set up in 2001 to reinvigorate the eight outer islands – and put an end to their population decline. Olga, from Klaksvík – the Faroes’ second largest town – works at the university in Tórshavn, and heads up the association in her spare time.

They wait and hope”, she said of the outer islanders – many of whom have gone to great lengths to really engage with the work Olga and her team are doing. The eight islands were once alone and anonymous; now they are together and have a voice.

For the Outer Islands Association, tourism is playing a key role in attempting to refresh the eight islands it covers. It is often the case that the people who moved from the outer islands to the towns such as Tórshavn, Klaksvík and Hoyvík, kept hold of their original properties as a holiday retreat of sorts.

The problem is, Olga said, such houses are therefore unoccupied for as much as 50 weeks of the year. The owners are also either reluctant to rent them out or unwilling to sell up – or worse: both. Olga added that Gjógv, where I stayed for the first night, is made up almost entirely of summer houses, making an already sleepy village even sleepier.

However, there is a concerted effort to attract a greater number of visitors to the islands. Around 40,000 people a year visit the Faroes from abroad – a figure that is increasing. “We don’t want a lot of people here”, Olga said, pointing out that the Faroese way of life and the country’s nature should not be sacrificed in the name of tourism.

It needs to be sustainable”, she added. “People come to the Faroe Islands for the quietness, for village life and to feel anonymous. We don’t want to be another Spain.”

By that, of course, she means that the islands don’t want to become a hotspot for budget holidays. But that seems very unlikely given that most things in the country are really quite pricey (my guide from the first day, Andrias, said that one of the only things cheaper in the Faroe Islands than in the UK is petrol). Reykjavík, the capital of neighbouring Iceland, may have become a popular destination for exuberant stag weekends, but as long as the high cost of living remains so, it’s unlikely that anywhere in the Faroe Islands will follow suit.

In the outer islands specifically, it’s hoped that by increasing tourism, women will stay on the islands. The ratio between men and women already favours the men in the country generally, but in the eight smallest islands, the mismatch is even greater. The possibility of jobs in tourism and small crafts could well go some way to solving this.

The Outer Islands Association is also at the forefront of calls for young people to get better education and aim higher than farming, carpentry and fishing. But by doing this, Olga said, they’re shooting themselves in the foot – as many then move away to work. There’s a clear goldilocks zone on this issue, in which it’s stressed to the young people that they can be successful in other, newer areas in their home country, instead of abroad.

After my chat with Olga, I headed south for the Faroese capital Tórshavn. There, I met Súsanna Sørensen from the country’s tourist board at Etika – a sushi restaurant located in the town centre. It’s fair to say the food was infinitely better (and much fresher) than the Tesco-bought sushi I’m used to back home. It was here that I got my first taste of Faroese salmon (if you read my first diary entry, German football coach Joachim Löw was right). I’d also recommend the cod tongue, which may sound rather disgusting (who knew fish even have tongues?) but is actually incredibly tasty.

I spent the afternoon exploring the area around the apartment I’d be staying in for the next two nights – a short walk from the Tórsvøllur national football stadium. The centre of the country’s capital is much more urbanised than the tiny Faroese villages I’d been to and driven through before. Its amenities are sufficient – mostly small, independent shops, bars and restaurants – and there is a shopping centre a short walk out that serves as a pinprick in the side of the cosy bubble in which the Faroes sit (there is a Burger King but no McDonalds in the country).

A conversation I had with Súsanna over sushi summed up the Faroese way of life. We were discussing my schedule for the next few days, when the topic of renewable energy came up (the Faroe Islands are big on wind and hydro). “Gjáargarður, where you stayed last night, has solar panels, you know”, she said. I laughed, and said that despite discussing the purpose of my trip with the guesthouse staff when I arrived, they hadn’t mentioned that.

We don’t like to boast”, Súsanna replied. That may be the Faroese way, but boy could they boast.

This is the second of four diary entries from Alex Blackburne’s recent trip to the Faroe Islands. Read the first entry here

Further reading:

Sustainable tourism: people power and destination stewardship

A responsible tourist considers local communities

Sustainable tourism can help tackle the world’s biggest challenges, says UN official

81% of tour operators and 75% of travellers say yes to more sustainable travel

The Guide to Sustainable Tourism 2013


How to Build An Eco-Friendly Home Pool



eco-friendly pool for home owners
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Swimming pools are undoubtedly one of the most luxurious features that any home can have. But environmentally-conscious homeowners who are interested in having a pool installed may feel that the potential issues surrounding wasted water, chemical use and energy utilized in heating the water makes having a home swimming pool difficult to justify.

But there is good news, because modern technologies are helping to make pools far less environmentally harmful than ever before. If you are interested in having a pool built but you want to make sure that it is as eco-friendly as possible, you can follow the advice below. From natural pools to solar panel heating systems, there are many steps that you can take.

Choose a natural pool to go chemical free

For those homeowners interested in an eco-friendly pool, the first thing to consider is a natural pool. Natural swimming pools utilise reed bed technology or moss-filtration to naturally filter out dirt from the water. These can be combined with eco-pumps to allow you to have a pool that is completely free from chemicals.

Not only are traditional pool chemicals potentially harmful to the skin, they also mean that you can contaminate the area around the pool if chemical-filled water leaks or is splashed around. This can be bad for your garden and the environment general.

It will be necessary to work with an expert pool builder to ensure that you have the expertise to get your natural pool installed properly. But the results with definitely be worth the effort and planning that you have to put in.

Avoid concrete if possible

The vast majority of home pools are built using concrete but this is far from ideal in terms of an eco-friendly pool for a large number of reasons. Concrete pools are typically built and then lined to stop keep out any bacteria. This is theoretically fine, except that concrete is porous and the lining can be liable to erode or break which can allow bacteria to enter the pool.

It is much better to use a non-porous material such as fibreglass or carbon ceramic composite for your pool. Typically, these swimming pools are supplied in a one-piece shell rather than having to be built from scratch, ensuring a bacteria-free environment. These non-porous materials make it impossible for the water to become contaminated through bacteria seeping into the pool by osmosis.

The further problem that can arise from having a concrete pool is that once this bacteria begins to get into the pool it can be more difficult for a natural filtration system to be effective. This can lead to you having to resort to using chemicals to get the pool clean.

Add solar panels

It is surprising how many will go to extreme lengths to ensure that their pool is as eco-friendly as possible in terms of building and maintaining it but then fall down on something extremely obvious. No matter what steps you take with the rest of your pool, it won’t really be worth the hassle if you are going to be conventionally heating your pool up, using serious amounts of energy to do so.

Thankfully there are plenty of steps you can take to ensure that your pool is heated to a pleasant temperature while causing minimal damage to the environment. Firstly, gathering energy using solar panels has become a very popular way to reduce consumption of electricity as well as decreasing utility bills. Many businesses offer solar panels specifically for swimming pools.

Additionally, installing an energy efficient heat pump or boiler to work in conjunction with your solar panels can be hugely beneficial.

Cover it!

Finally, it is worth remembering that there are many benefits to investing in a pool cover. When you cover your pool you increase its heat retention which stops you from having to power a pump or boiler to keep it warm. This works in conjunction with the solar panels and eco-friendly heating system that you have already had installed.

Additionally, you cover helps to keep out dirt and other detritus that can enter the pool, bringing in bacteria. Anything that you can do to keep bacteria out will be helpful in terms of keeping it clean.

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4 Ways To Get a Green House in 2018




green house and homes
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Demand for green houses is surging. In 2020, almost 20% of all homes on the market will be green.

If you would like to buy a green home, this is a great time to look into it. Prices are still pretty low and there are a lot more financing options available than there were right after the recession.

If you’re thinking about buying a house, now could be a very good time to make the move! A number of factors in the housing market right now mean that you might be able to afford your dream home. Although in many parts of the country house prices are still rising, if you do your research and plan wisely, there are lots of good schemes to help you get your foot on the property ladder, or trade up to the house you’ve always wanted.

Interest Rates and Stamp Duty

Although the Bank of England raised interest rates by 0.25% recently, they remain very low, which is good news if you’re thinking of taking out a mortgage. However, rates may not stay low and it’s predicted that there’ll be a further rate rise during 2018, so don’t wait too long. Another factor that’s going to help first time buyers in particular is the Chancellor’s decision to abolish stamp duty for first timers purchasing properties for under £300,000.

Different options

For many people looking to buy a green home, raising a deposit of between 5% and 20% may not be a realistic option, in which case there are a growing number of schemes to help. Increasingly popular are shared ownership schemes, through which the buyer pays a percentage of the full value of the property (typically between 25% and 75%) and the local council or a housing association pays the rest, and takes part ownership. This is suitable for buyers who may struggle to meet the up-front costs of buying outright. There will often be a service charge or management fees to pay in addition to the mortgage. The Government’s Help To Buy scheme is a good place to start looking if you’re interested in this option. This scheme is now available to people looking to buy green homes too.

ISA Options

If you’re still saving for a deposit, another scheme is the Help to Buy ISA. You can get a 25% boost to your savings on amounts up to £200 per month with this scheme. It’s only open to first time buyers and you can claim a maximum of £3000.

Other costs

Green home buyers are going to run into a number of other ancillary costs, most of which are common to other homebuyers.

When calculating how much you can afford, it’s vitally important to remember that buying a house comes with a whole host of other costs. Depending on the cost of the property that you’re buying, you may have to pay stamp duty of anywhere between 1% and 5%. There’ll be estate agents fee if you’re also selling a property, although there are a wide range of online estate agents operating such as Purple Bricks or Right Move that have lower fees than traditional high street companies. Conveyancing costs to a solicitor can add another £1000-£3000 and you may need to take out life insurance and hire a moving firm.

There are other initial costs such as, fixing parts of the home that aren’t upto your taste. Getting new furniture to fill up all the new-found space in your new home. If you are moving away from the city, you need to consider the cost of transportation as well, as it can take up quite a lot over time. Take your time, do your homework and shop around and soon you could be getting the keys to your perfect home.

I hope this article was useful for you to learn more about the basics that you need to be aware of before you start the process of buying your first home. If you have any doubts with regards to this, let us know through the comments and we will be glad to help you out. If you have any suggestions regarding how we can improve the article, let us know them through the comments as well for us to improve.

Do you have any other reservations against buying your first home? Do you see your house as an asset or a liability? Do you think it is important for everyone to get themselves a new home? Let us know through the comments.

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