The importance of access is now widely recognised in nature conservation and government policy. Spending time in the countryside brings inspiration, health and well-being benefits and potentially also brings support for nature conservation. Informed and imaginative planning can both allow for increased levels of access and enhance visitors experience while safeguarding designated species and habitats. Our work in this area falls within three inter-related areas (see also Mitigation and SANGs).
We develop visitor strategies for countryside sites to help balance the needs and desires of people with the safeguarding and enhancement of wildlife.
Visitor surveys underpin much of our work, providing information on visitor numbers, visitor profiles, how visitors use sites and what influences their choices.
ACCESS & NATURE
Analysis and modelling techniques can often help to inform how the distribution of wildlife and access overlap and how issues can be resolved.
Balancing peoples’ desire for access to the natural environment and the needs of species and habitats is a growing challenge at many sites across the UK. The number of visits to the natural environment is increasing, and recreation and nature conservation interests often overlap at key sites.
Benefits of access
There is increasing understanding within the conservation sector of the multiple roles played by nature reserves and designated sites, and a growing desire to take into account the needs and preferences of different user groups. Access can bring considerable benefits, for example, to peoples’ physical, mental and spiritual well-being, to children’s development, and to local economies. There is also evidence to suggest that an emotional affinity with nature plays a role in individuals’ motivation to protect nature.
Impacts of access
Access to the countryside can also have considerable impacts, often linked to the volume of use. Impacts can include damage (vegetation wear, soil erosion, direct damage through trampling, vandalism), contamination (nutrient enrichment, pollution, spread of disease and non-native species), increased fire risk, and disturbance to animals and birds.
How we can help
We work with NGOs, local authorities and partnerships to help find a balance through strategic planning. We aim to enhance visitor engagement, access and experience while safeguarding designated site and species. In some cases, we also undertake the visitor survey work or ecological research used to underpin the work. Projects we have undertaken range from strategic recommendations for wide areas under multiple managements, to options appraisals and management plans and very specific projects (e.g. new paths). Examples include:
Visitor questionnaires and counts at Alver Valley SANG
for Gosport Borough Council
Recreation strategy for Wild Purbeck Nature Improvement Area
commissioned by Purbeck District Council on behalf of the NIA
Visitor Management Strategy for the Nene Valley Nature Improvement Area
commissioned by RSPB on behalf of the NIA
Mitigation Strategy for the Solent
undertaken with David Tyldesley & Associates for the Solent Forum
Recreation strategy for the Suffolk Sandlings
for Suffolk Wildlife Trust/ Suffolk Coasts & Heaths AONB/FC
Morecambe Bay bird disturbance and access management project
for the Morecambe Bay Partnership
Our access management work often overlaps with work on mitigation and SANGS, for example:
Visitor surveys inform us about how many people are using sites, why they choose sites, how they behave and their views on particular issues. We undertake such surveys as part of wider projects (such as management plans or visitor strategies) and also as stand-alone projects. We also analyse data from questionnaires carried out in-house by conservation bodies.
Adding up the numbers
Getting a handle on visitor numbers is often challenging. Sometimes there is no substitute for surveyors out on site accurately counting, but we also use a range of other approaches including automated counters, automated cameras and time-lapse cameras, depending on the project.
Sophisticated surveying techniques
Collecting more detailed data usually involves some kind of interview. At Footprint Ecology, we have extensive experience both designing and carrying out effective visitor questionnaires and we use specialist survey software that allows us to deploy surveys on tablets in the field (even in areas without phone/internet connections), on the web and on paper. We have a team of experienced visitor surveyors who do on-site questionnaires and these can include handing out GPS units (small cubes that clip to bags or clothing) or interactive mapping to record where people go on the site.
Examples of our survey work
Examples of our visitor surveys range from single sites to wide areas encompassing many sites, and include face-to-face interviews, handing out GPS units, postal questionnaires, observational work and use of automated counters and cameras, for example:
Visitor questionnaires and counts on the Thames Basin Heaths
for Natural England during 2005 & 2012
Devon household postal survey
for a partnership of local authorities in south-east Devon
Use of time-lapse photography and drones to record activity in Poole Harbour
for Natural England
Visitor surveys on the Humber Estuary
designed to improve understanding of how to manage recreational impacts to birds, carried out for the Humber Management Scheme
Access and nature conservation research
Footprint Ecology is a UK leader in using innovative research tools to study and understand human access to natural spaces and impacts on species from disturbance.
How we can help
Our work includes modelling access in relation to the distribution of protected species such as Nightjar, Woodlark and Dartford Warbler (see Bird disturbance) and using spatial models to predict the distribution of visitors over a wide area to create ‘heat maps’. These maps can be used to relate to conservation features and inform visitor strategies. In our work related to dogs we can also draw on the knowledge and experience of our Senior Planning Ecologist, who is a qualified Dog Behaviourist. For examples of how our access and nature conservation work can link to other work areas, creating a bigger picture, see the Access and Nature Conservation and Urban Development Surrounding Heathlands case studies.
Work in the Suffolk Sandlings
undertaken for the Suffolk Wildlife Trust in partnership with Forestry Commission and RSPB
Work in the New Forest
various projects for the National Park
Data analysis, modelling & visitor management strategy for East Devon Pebblebed Heaths
for East Devon Council, working with other local authorities and site managers
Various surveys and projects on the Dorset Heaths
from 2005-onoing for a range of local authorities, the County Council and the NIA
Thames Basin Heaths
various projects for Natural England from 2005-ongoing
Visitor modelling in Ashdown Forest
for Natural England
for Teignbridge District Council
We also carry out survey work to assess the impacts of recreation on habitats, work that is often related to mitigation projects, see Ecological survey and analysis.
Contact us to discuss your project
We’re always ready to talk about your requirements, so please do get in touch today