The team which looks after Dorset’s beautiful coast have been praised for their part in boosting the tourism economy in the south west.

The region’s 18 Protected Landscapes – including the Jurassic Coast and the South West Coast Path – have been recognised by being awarded the Outstanding Contribution to tourism accolade at the South West Tourism Excellence Awards.

More than 450 people from the sector attended the gala evening, held at the Riviera International Centre in Torquay. Victoria Graham of BBC Spotlight hosted the event.

The South West’s Protected Landscapes consists of 12 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (including Dorset AONB), two National Parks, The South West Coast Paths, the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site, 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 volunteers and key staff that manage the assets of some of the region’s most beautiful countryside under the constant pressures of having to retain funding in order to give visitors the best possible experience.

Chief Executive of the Jurassic Coast Trust Sam Rose said: “This award is fantastic recognition for the role our nature and landscapes play in helping to keep the south west a beautiful place with a thriving tourism economy.

“The huge value of nature is often overlooked, as these landscapes are ‘free to enter’, yet they are so often the reasons why people choose to visit, live and work here, so are major drivers in the economy.

“As relative newcomers, the Jurassic Coast Trust is privileged to share in the award and to be seen as part of such an incredible group of natural spaces.”

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.

Julian Gray, director of the South West Coast Path Association, said: “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.”