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Industry experts believe innovation brought about by the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) could play a key role in better protecting our world’s national parks, while reducing expenses and improving the visitor experience. Director of the Connected Communities Research Lab at Lancaster University Management School Edward Truch, was the lead author of the “Smart Parks: Bringing Smart Technologies to national Parks” report, which the Lake District National Park Authority commissioned. According to Professor Truch, national parks are facing growing pressure to deliver more for less, while taking factors into consideration like increasing population and visitor numbers, which are straining the natural environment.

“This collaboration between the Lake District National Park Partnership and Lancaster University Connected Communities Research Lab creates an opportunity for us to explore innovative technology that may one day benefit our communities and enhance the experience for the millions of visitors who enjoy the park every year,” says Lake District National Park’s Head of Strategy and Partnerships, Liam McAleese. “Smart Parks is a fascinating piece research and it has presented us with a broad range of options to consider for the future of the National Park.”

The report describes business models and revenue sources for national parks to consider that can address budget gaps formed by cuts in public sector spending. The smart park model demonstrated how properly utilizing connectivity and exchanging information can benefit everyone across the board including conservationists, tourists, and businesses, to communities, park authorities, and emergency services. The report also suggests how developing technology with built-in intelligence and agility for adapting to its environment, can offer “greener” more sustainable options for natural spaces, thus optimizing transmissions to preserve power.

“The report offers a very new look at how designated natural areas and other green spaces, and the people that visit them, can benefit from the latest innovations in modern technology,” says Chief Executive of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Committee UK and Development Director of World Heritage UK, Chris Mahon. “It’s about new ways of delivering conservation as well as visitor convenience and experience enhancement. Commissioned by the same organization responsible for the successful 2017 inscription of the UK’s most recent UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ‘English Lake District’ this study will be of considerable interest to many people, including members of the UNESCO and IUCN networks, involved in land and people management.”

A new “smart park” vision enhanced by the effectively utilizing the IoT, identifies potential solutions for challenges these vast rural regions of the country face like efficient and reliably internet connectivity. Soon we could see real-time information from environmental monitors and sensors inform park rangers of footpath conditions, climate conditions, even send alerts when garbage bins are filled to capacity. Cellphones could even start sensing when you’re tired, and notify you of the nearest place to rest. These are merely examples of smart technologies both being developed and currently in use not just in urbanized areas, but are starting to be utilized in national parks and forests, and a preview of what else we should expect moving forward.

Having said that, visitors are already utilizing smart connected technologies through apps like Google, Ordinance Survey, and Booking.com, for guidance on aspects like navigation and accommodation bookings. With the number of internet-connected devices projected to reach around 25 billion by 2025, it’s imperative that national parks start acting now, and seriously take these innovative technologies into consideration for better protecting their environment, and meeting future visitor expectations.

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