A new Green Tourism scheme in West Oxfordshire has been launched to help local businesses save money and encourage visitors to contribute towards looking after the countryside.

Businesses involved raise money to conserve the countryside in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) through 'visitor payback'.

This involves collecting voluntary contributions from their customers.

These same businesses will also get a free 'green' audit which helps reduce costs by cutting energy consumption and waste.

The project is a partnership between the Cotswolds Conservation Board and West Oxfordshire District Council.

Ten businesses have signed up to the scheme so far and their input is shaping the way the project operates.

In addition, feedback from businesses is deciding the levels at which the visitor contributions are set and steering how the money will be spent.

John Mills, from the Conservation Board explained,

"Similar Green Tourism initiatives are very successful in other parts of the country, bringing together countryside conservation and the tourism industry.

"Here in Oxfordshire we are working closely with local businesses to make sure the scheme works well for everyone involved.

"For those businesses taking part we anticipate the visitor payback being a voluntary £1 charge on each accommodation booking.

"Appropriate amounts will be set for other activities such as meals and entrance fees. This money will be spent on countryside conservation projects, for example clearing footpaths and planting trees.

"The free 'green' audits for tourism businesses will help cut costs and bronze, silver or gold accreditation will be awarded, which can then be used in publicity material."

Councillor Verena Hunt from West Oxfordshire District Council said,

"The Cotswold landscape is a key asset for the tourism industry, so protecting it for the future is important to us all.

"That's why we are so keen on this new scheme - it helps businesses become 'greener' and links visitors' enjoyment of the area with its long term conservation."

Businesses which have signed up to the scheme so far are:

Moat End B&B, Kingham

Crown & Cushion Hotel, Chipping Norton

Plough Inn B&B, Kingham

Meadowbank House B&B, Ascott-under-Wychwood

Carpenters Arms, Fulbrook

Barley Park B&B, Burford

Mill Cottage Self-Catering, Chipping Norton

Plum Cottage Self-Catering, Ascott-under-Wychwood

Mill House Hotel, Kingham

King John's Barn Self-Catering, Leafield.

Quality assured accommodation, pubs, restaurants and attractions in the Oxfordshire part of the Cotswolds AONB - from Great Rollright in the north, to Burford in the south, Idbury in the west across to Long Hanborough in the east - can join to scheme.

John Mills went on to say,

"The tourism industry has shown a great deal of interest in this scheme and now we have ten businesses on board we can agree the details.

"The scheme will begin in September 2005, with the aim of extending it to more businesses and across the whole of the Cotswolds in future years."

The Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is cared for by the Cotswolds Conservation Board and one third of West Oxfordshire District Council lies within the AONB.

More information is available from Anna Tottle at West Oxfordshire District Council on 01993 861561.