Informal recreation in upland Britain : a comparative study of two sites in Lancashire
The use of an area for informal recreation will have long-term environmental effects, particularly on the vegetation. Changes associated with large numbers of visitors may be plain to see, but less noticeable changes induced in areas of lower use may be just as important to the preservation of the natural habitat; such changes may be difficult to detect without expensive and time-consuming research. The degree of change permissible will vary according to the type of site, the value of the habitat, and the insistence of the demand for access. Control of vegetation change requires an understanding of the background environment and the ecology of the site, as well as an anticipation of the probable effects of recreation use and some means of influencing visitor activity and distribution. Identification of indicator species for general application has so far proved inconclusive. The uncertainties surrounding the chances induced by recreation use are further complicated by the fact that many of our informal sites occupy areas of semi-natural sub-climax vegetation. Such vegetation say be worthy of preservation in its own right, but management of seral communities requires careful monitoring and control, and may not lend itself to a recreation programme. The desire to protect certain habitats from destruction and extinction has led to the development of a system of protective designations, such as Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Vegetation not so designated may still be valuable wildlife refuges, as well as providing attractive settings for informal recreation. The problem is to control the distribution of visitors so that their very numbers do not destroy the countryside they come to see. The contemporary solution lies in various schemes for zoning; the basic idea being an hierarchy of sites, divided according to attractiveness, vulnerability and capacity. Such a scheme will only be successful if the sites can consistently attract visitors within the prescribed numbers and uses. This study will concentrate on two sites within such a scheme in Lancashire. The major landscape attraction of the areas is the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The sites investigated represent the two extremes of management: an informal, uncontrolled site within the designated area of AONB (the Trough of Bowland), and a formally planned site managed for countryside recreation, located on the fringe of the designated area (Beacon Fell Country Park). The importance of preserving certain habitats and the relevance of theoretical studies of vegetation change is considered. An attempt is made to devise a means of objectively relating vegetation disturbance and trampling pressure, with a view to predicting likely changes in areas of new use. An assessment of contemporary changes on the heavily used recreation site led to a consideration of the importance of the vegetation community in the perception of landscape, and of the importance of landscape in the recreation experience. It became clear that the reaction of visitors to the site was related to the general form of the vegetation, but apparently not to the specific detail of species or structure. A comparative study involving the two contrasting sites is made in an attempt to elucidate this point. The function and use of the two sites is examined by a detailed visitor survey, involving observation of distribution and activity, and an investigation of opinions and attitudes by questionnaire. The pattern of use of two picnic sites is analysed in an attempt to evaluate the landscape features influencing site choice, and specific location in relation to fixed features and other groups already present. The sites chosen demonstrate how such features may be used to modify the perceptual capacity of a site, thus allowing an increase in density where necessary, without loss of visitor satisfaction. An analysis of the characteristics of the visitors and their activities is linked to an interpretation of site perception and use. It would sees that Beacon Fell Country Park is a very successful site. In spite of being partly landscaped plantation, it is fulfilling the desire of many visitors for a natural countryside setting. However, evidence suggests that it is not fulfilling its official planing aim; that is, to act as a filter for Bowland AONB. The implications of this finding are discussed.