Recreational impact

The recreational use of the shore can have adverse effects on the biological community. The effect of people simply walking on the shore can be damaging. This is particularly apparent when the topography of the shore causes people to follow a limited number of routes, leading to the appearance of paths characterised by reduced cover of fauna and flora (Fletcher, 1997). While such pathways represent a limited area of the shore, they are nevertheless unsightly. It is also apparent that the lighter trampling pressure experienced elsewhere on popular shores can cause changes in community structure. For example, even very light trampling on shores in the Northeast of England was sufficient to reduce the abundance of fucoids (Fletcher and Frid, 1996) which, in turn reduced the microhabitat available for epiphytic species. Light trampling pressure has also been shown to damage and remove barnacles (Brosnan and Crumrine, 1994). Trampling pressure results in an increase in the area of bare rock on the shore. This might be temporarily colonised by opportunistic species such as Enteromorpha. However, complete recovery cannot occur until the pressure is reduced.

In one section we argue that rocky shores have conservation value as a public amenity whilst in another we identify visitor pressure as a threat to shore communities. Clearly, this is an area of potential difficulty for the management of rocky shores within SACs. Pragmatic management policies should simultaneously protect rocky shores from recreational impacts and allow some degree of public access. Existing evidence suggests that a combination of public education and limited restrictions on access can minimise recreational impacts on rocky shores. Both of these measures require a considerable investment of resources. Site by site assessments of recreational impact and management may therefore prove worthwhile. Important factors for consideration are listed below.

  • The nature and extent of public use of the shore. Higher numbers of visitors result in greater disturbance. Even light use can alter the community (Fletcher and Frid, 1996). Some areas of a shore may be heavily used while others are not. Recreational disturbances usually have a highly uneven distribution.
  • The vulnerability of the community. Relatively few studies have considered the effect of recreational impact on shore communities. It is likely that the effect is heavily dependent on both the structure of the natural community and the degree of disturbance. A monitoring programme conducted in tandem with a restriction of access to certain areas of the shore will give an indication of the local vulnerability to recreational impacts.
  • The effectiveness of management measures. Assessment of the recreational impact on rocky shores may identify the need for management measures. Careful monitoring should be conducted to establish the effectiveness of any measures that are implemented.

The assessment of the sensitivity of rocky shores to recreational impacts and the development of management policies for these shores should be a priority area of research within affected SACs. A coordinated research effort between SACs could lead to significant advances in the understanding and management of recreational impacts.

Next Section                     References