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Title: Public access and recreation in the countryside and their impacts on biodiversity : an interdisciplinary analysis
Author: Barlow, Catherine
ISNI:       0000 0004 2705 9440
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2010
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Despite its relatively small land mass (approximately 245 000 sq km), the UK is now home to close to 61 million people (Office of National Statistics, 2009). This high population density (243 per km2), aggregated in major cities, leaves the remaining land area, under great stress to produce food and housing and recreation opportunities for the country’s ever increasing population. The principle of ‘right of way’, allowing walkers to cross privately owned land on paths or tracks, totalling about 140,000 miles (225,000km) makes recreation in Britain unique. In the mosaic of the English countryside, linear features (such as field boundaries, woodland edges and streams) are often the natural route of public rights of way. The importance of field boundaries to wildlife within the agricultural landscape, has been recognised for several years. Disturbance by public access and recreation is another potential source of detriment to farmland wildlife, and one that is noticeably absent from current research. As managers consider how to limit impacts, they are faced with difficult decisions that affect countryside users, landowners and biodiversity. A call by authors for better integrated social and ecological research regarding recreation impacts has been heard in recent years. This study takes a holistic approach to this challenge utilizing a questionnaire survey of farmers/landowners, recreational groups and members of the public in the Midland counties of England to identify areas of conflict between recreational users and identify areas current management that could be improved. Disturbance to wildlife and damage to tracks from ‘trampling’ were two topics commonly identified as areas of concern to landowners, recreational groups and the general public. Study two attempts to account for the differences in diversity, abundance and spatial distribution of farmland birds along a disturbance gradient (footpath). No significant difference between bird abundance or species richness on transects following public rights of way and control transects was found in this study, suggesting that presence of public rights of way with ‘low’ recreational disturbance does not impact on the abundance of farmland birds in lowland England. Study three investigates an important consideration in management of recreation and access - the durability or vulnerability of a vegetation type to activity. Low resistance to four studied activities (All Terrain Vehicles, horse & rider, walker and mountain bike), was exhibited by MG7 grassland in this study; all four activity types showing a 50% cover loss at 40 passes or less. The low resistance of grassland to trampling could have implications for management since areas of disturbance become obvious with just a few passes – these areas will tend to attract more use, and therefore lead to trail formation. In the case of Rights of Way that follow an obvious route such as a field boundary are less likely to have issues with be a problem. ROW without an obvious route to follow (through pasture or grassland) or physical boundary (hedge or crop edge) to guide the trail user wandering from the intended trail and possible formation of secondary trails could occur. This potential problem argues for the use good signage to avoid trail users losing their way from the intended route. The results of the three studies were drawn together in the final chapter to formulate suggestions for management of public access and recreation in lowland farmland.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Thomas Harrison Trust
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: GF Human ecology. Anthropogeography ; GV Recreation Leisure