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Access and Nature Conservation

Access and Nature Conservation

In the past, public access and nature conservation were typically viewed as conflicting aims and were clearly separated. For example, nature reserves were wildlife sanctuaries where permits were required prior to any visit. Now access is viewed as fundamental to nature conservation in that it allows people to view and connect with wildlife, raises support and brings revenue. Furthermore the wider importance of access to the countryside, in terms of health, well-being and spiritual benefits are now more widely recognised. There can however be a difficult balancing act in reconciling the nature conservation of sites and the needs of visitors, and Footprint Ecology has made a difference at a range of sites.

At a national level, government policy has often resulted in enhanced access. Footprint Ecology staff worked closely with Natural England on the implementation of CRoW, identifying research priorities and both conducting and advising on a range of research projects. Similarly with the implementation of coastal access we have run a range of workshops with Natural England staff and undertaken projects on particular sites. We have recently been working with the BTO and Bournemouth University, collating data for Natural England on all intertidal Special Protection Areas (SPAs) in England to identify which are vulnerable to impacts from recreational disturbance.

Our work has made a difference in Wales too, where we worked for a number of years with Natural Resources Wales and its predecessor the Countryside Council for Wales. The project involved the production of maps covering the whole of Wales that showed vulnerability to recreation pressure. By bringing together expert scoring, habitat, species and fire data we were able to generate maps that could be used in a wide variety of situations.

A clear understanding of visitor access and behaviour at sites is often fundamental. Such data collection can include direct observation of people, interviews or recording interactions between people and wildlife. Some surveys have included the use of drones, GPS units, time-lapse photography and automated counters to quantify visitor numbers, distribution and behaviour.

At individual sites we have worked closely with local stakeholders to develop access management approaches that lead to enhanced access and better protection for the nature conservation interest. These have included a range of particular issues. At Morecambe Bay for example, concern about disturbance to wader roosts and key bird breeding sites around the estuary led The Morecambe Bay Partnership to commission Footprint Ecology to carry out detailed fieldwork at key locations around the bay combined with visitor surveys. We then produced a series of recommendations now being followed by the partnership. In Purbeck, we worked with TellTale in a project for the Nature Improvement Area (NIA) partnership, first undertaking visitor surveys and mapping sensitive features and then producing detailed recommendations for case study sites together with a wider visitor management strategy.

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