SDNPA Visitor Survey Environment Element Final Report
Acorn & Natural Values 1 27 June 2012
South Downs National Park
Visitor Survey 2012:
Environment Element
Final Report: Executive Summary
South Downs National Park Authority
Acorn Tourism Consulting Ltd and Natural Values
27 June 2012
SDNPA Visitor Survey Environment Element Final Report
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Executive Summary
The Environmental Element of the Visitor Survey is part of a wider suite of surveys
that are being undertaken by the SDNPA during 2012.
The aim of the Environmental survey was to identify and quantify the impacts visitors
have on the landscape, biodiversity and cultural heritage they come to enjoy, so that
appropriate visitor management, conservation and enhancement programmes can be
developed and implemented.
The Environment survey involved undertaking two quantitative surveys: one with land
managers of primarily privately owned or tenanted land, the other with specific nature
conservation and cultural heritage sites. In addition qualitative data was collected
through consultation with managers of nature conservation and cultural heritage sites
to create best practice case studies.
The final survey samples were relatively small with 72 responses to the Land
Manager’s survey, which represents 8% of commercial landholdings in the National
Park. The 73 responses to the Nature Conservation and Cultural Heritage Site
survey represents 35% of the main nature conservation or cultural heritage sites and
attractions in the National Park. Generalisations made from the data should therefore
be treated with caution,.
Visitor issues impacting on Land Managers
The Land Managers’ survey, distributed to 230 members of the SDLMG, elicited a
31% response rate and the 72 were well distributed geographically across the
National Park and its Landscape Character Areas. However it should be noted that
the relatively small number of limited the depth of analysis possible in some areas.
The majority (81%/58 respondents
) of respondents were located rurally, were using
their land for livestock grazing (83%/60) and arable farming (68%/49). Public rights of
way crossed most land holdings, in the form of footpaths (86%/62) and bridleways
(63%/45), although there were relatively few cycle trails (10%/7). The public could
also access around a third (37.5%/27) of these properties due to permitted access
areas and open access land.
Not all land managers had visitors on their property; a quarter had no visitors at all
(24%/17), while half (54%/39) had up to 5,000 per year and only five received more
than 50,000 visits a year. The highest proportions of visitors to landholdings
appeared to be clustered along the route of the South Downs Way and along the
Due to the small sample size the number of respondents has been included alongside the
percentage figures.
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southern boundary of the Park, near the urban fringe. These locations appear to be
hotspots for visitors.
Most of those that did have visitors accessing their property (72%/52 of all the
respondents) felt that visitors caused issues with the management of their land. Not
surprisingly, due to the accessible nature of the National Park, most visitor issues
tended to be associated with public access (60%/44) and there was a predominance
of sites with visitor issues located along the South Downs Way National Trail and the
southern urban fringe, with a particular concentration of issues reported between
Brighton and Seaford.
Walking was the visitor activity that caused the most (59%/81 out of 138 issues
raised) issues for land managers, particularly when dogs were being walked off the
lead. The main problem was with visitors that ignore rights of way and walk across
private land, where no public access is allowed. This resulted in damage to wildlife
and disturbance to stock, for example due to gates being left open or, in one or two
cases, sheep being attacked by dogs. The lack of control over dogs was considered
to be a major cause of disturbance to wildlife.
Cyclists riding too fast on footpaths and horse riders that don’t keep to the public
rights of way also caused problems with land management and wildlife, on 12% and
8% of sites (17 and 11) respectively. Motorbikes, quad bikes and 4x4s used the
rights of way inappropriately on 11% of landholdings (15).
Wildlife or conservation designations applied to more than half (54%/39) of
landholdings. The most frequent were Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and
Scheduled Monuments. The types of visitor issues that were experienced at sites
with conservation designations were similar to those reported across all sites, with no
particular trend of issues specific to landholdings with Scheduled Monuments or
nature conservation status.
Visitor attractions, both paid or unpaid, were provided by half of landowners (51%/37)
and visitor accommodation was offered by a quarter (26%/19) of sites, the majority of
which was self-catering. The farm stay experience is a popular concept for visitors
generally and the lack of this type of accommodation in the National Park may be a
gap in the market for land managers. The issues these sites raised in relation to
visitors were similar to those experienced at other sites; there was no pattern
between the types of issues and presence of a visitor attraction.
The busiest months for visitors were April to October, however visitors and their
related issues were present throughout the year, which may reflect the Park’s
popularity for all year activities such as walking, riding and cycling.
Although a high proportion of sites raised issues relating to the management of
visitors, it was remarked that only a small minority of visitors cause the problems.
However land managers felt that visitor management in the National Park could be
improved and some of the visitor impacts reduced through better signage of public
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rights of way and improved education about the meaning of public access with both
visitors that travel away from home and those that live locally.
Visitor Impacts on Nature Conservation and Cultural Heritage Sites
The Survey
Having identified the main issues associated with visitors on privately owned or
tenanted land from the first survey; the second survey aimed to further understand
the impact of these issues on visitor attraction sites that had either a nature
conservation or cultural heritage designation, or both, or were heavily used for
A total of 205 sites that matched the criteria were surveyed, 73 sites (35%) replied.
The sites showed a reasonable geographical distribution and covered the main
LCAs. However the maximum numbers of sites in each habitat was 50 with 20 or less
sites being present in most habitats. This made it difficult to identify representative
trends in visitor impacts and visitor management for each habitat area. The only sites
that completed both surveys were the five visitor attractions in the Land Manager’s
survey that receive more than 50,000 visitors per year, plus one other.
Eighty per cent (59) of sites had nature conservation or cultural heritage designations
with a quarter (26%/19 sites
) having both. As with the first survey, SSSIs and
Scheduled Monument designations occurred most frequently (38%/28 and 30%/22
respectively), a quarter of sites (27%/20) were also Local Wildlife Sites.
Visitor activities and their impacts
Learning and education featured as a visitor activity at over 80% (59) of sites. The
nature conservation and cultural heritage sites manage their sites to offer an
educational experience to visitors which brings environmental benefits by
encouraging the public to get involved in volunteering and by raising awareness of
conservation objectives.
Walking and wildlife watching and photography were the most popular outdoor
activities (at 78% (57), 60% (44) respectively), with picnicking, cycling and horse
riding and other land-based activities occurring at more than 20% of sites (49% (36),
40% (29), 32% (23) and 26% (19) respectively).
The impact of these visitor activities usually creates a combination of environmental
and social issues. Pollution due to litter and dog fouling (both arising at around half of
the sites (38 and 37 respectively)) occurred most frequently. Trampling, soil erosion
and the loss of wildlife habitats or species were the environmental only impacts
identified (at 37% (27), 22% (18) and 16% (14) respectively).
Due to the small sample size the number of sites has been included alongside the
percentage figures.
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The positive benefits of visits were primarily socio-economic and related to
education, health, income generation and employment (81% (59), 60% (44), 58%
(42) 50% and (35) respectively).
Impacts on habitats and species
The impact of visitor activities was assessed for each of the local habitats: woodland,
chalk downland/ grassland, other grassland habitats, heathland, arable, wetland and
marshland, rivers and streams, coast and sea and formal gardens and parkland.
Overall the impact of most visitor activities on local habitats was considered to be
neutral. (264 responses for neutral, 145 for positive and 140 for negative)
All habitats, except arable and coastal sites, recorded the positive impacts generated
by guided walks, wildlife watching and photography.
In terms of negative impacts, walking and cycling caused the majority of problems,
particularly where visitors walked with dogs and cycled off marked tracks.
Chalk downland was more sensitive to path erosion from walkers and horse riders
than woodland. It also experienced more activities such as grass boarding, zorbing,
and kite flying that could cause damage to plant life and aerial activities that could
disturb wildlife.
Woodlands were less susceptible than other habitats to path erosion caused by
walkers and horse riding but suffered disturbance to wildlife from most activities.
Heathland was sensitive to erosion and wildlife disturbance from walkers, cyclists
and horse riding.
Disturbance to wildlife was the main problem reported for wetlands. Formal gardens
experienced path erosion and sheep worrying from walkers with dogs. Issues specific
to arable land were crop damage and erosion caused by motorised off-road activities.
There was no negative impact reported on species by three quarters of sites (71%/52
sites), however where there was an impact it was most likely to affect plants (35%/12
sites) through trampling, birds (32%/11) through general habitat disturbance or
invertebrates such as butterflies (15%/5). Where they occurred these impacts were
spread across the Park and not related to any specific type of habitat. It is also
important to note that alongside visitor presence, a range of variables can affect the
presence of species including natural population changes, climate change and
habitat management regimes.
Impacts on cultural heritage sites
The impact of visitor activities was assessed for sites that incorporated Scheduled
Monuments, archaeological sites, historic houses, historic industrial heritage, other
historic features and historic gardens. The features occurring most often at sites were
Scheduled Monuments (33%/24) and archaeological sites (27%/20).
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The sites that were set up primarily as visitor attractions; the historic houses, gardens
and industrial heritage sites, generated the most positive impacts from their visitors.
By contrast, Scheduled Monuments and archaeological sites tended to lack
interpretation or specialised visitor management and suffered from damage and
erosion from walkers, cyclists, horse riders and metal detectors.
Visitor management
Overall the nature conservation and cultural heritage sites felt that the positive impact
of visitors outweighed the negative issues they can create.
A relatively small (28%/12) proportion of impacts caused by visitors were considered
to be permanent; the majority of impacts could be reversed, given sufficient time and
More than three quarters of sites (77%/50) wanted to attract more visitors in order to
increase visitors’ knowledge and awareness of the Park’s natural and cultural
heritage; to support the financial management of the site; and to help with habitat and
species management. The sites that didn’t receive any financial benefit from visitors
tended to be the ones that did not want more visitors.
The main costs associated with managing visitors are the tidying up of sites, the cost
of signage and interpretation, repairs to gates, fences and access roads. Less visitor
management expenditure is associated with habitat restoration or the restoration of
heritage features.
A wide range of visitor management activities were employed by sites including the
provision of information, managing access, education delivered through guided walks
and information sessions, regular site maintenance and wardens.
Although sites provide information about their own attraction there is a clear lack of
information being provided to visitors about how their behaviour can impact on the
National Park. These sites are well set up to deliver information to visitors and could
be an effective channel to help inform visitors of their responsibilities to the
The majority of sites (82%/46) considered that they were not over capacity and could
take more visitors and more than half (56%/41) had aspirations to develop their sites
further with increased educational opportunities, interpretation and visitor facilities.
Where alternative sites for visitors were recommended they tended to be managed
by the same organisation or were Country Parks and forests where more visitor
facilities were available, than on sensitive wildlife sites.
Overall the nature conservation and cultural heritage sites were well placed to attract
more visitors and there may be opportunities for them to work with private land
managers to alleviate visitor pressure and assist with visitor management practises.
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Case studies
Following completion of the two surveys and analysis of the data, a range of
organisations were contacted for further information on the management of visitor
issues associated with their sites. Organisations were selected based their known
expertise in managing sites, the large number of sites managed by them within the
National Park, or their ability to provide useful insights into visitor management.
Organisations that responded to both surveys were also contacted.
The case studies highlighted the findings from the two surveys. In addition, further
examples of good practice in visitor management were identified.
Issues relating to uncontrolled dogs, especially dog fouling and disturbance to wildlife
and livestock, were frequently cited in the case studies; responsible dog walking was
a recognised need. Examples of good practice in preventing visitors from wandering
away from designated routes included creating clear paths and desire lines and
positioning objects or materials to prevent people from creating their own routes
thereby causing erosion.
Providing visitors with information on why certain management interventions are
required was considered one of the most effective ways of addressing issues. It was
generally felt that people respond to requests if they know the reason why something
is necessary.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Visitor activities cause issues that are mostly localised, reversible (given sufficient
time and funding) and therefore do not cause an overall detrimental impact on the
National Park’s landscape.
At natural and cultural heritage sites the manager generally deals with issues that do
arise, although there is a wider problem with the erosion caused to Scheduled
Monuments. These sites would mostly welcome more visitors. However on privately
owned land nearly three quarters of sites reported issues that affect the management
of their land. Both survey’s highlighted that walkers and cyclists not staying on public
rights of way and uncontrolled dogs are the main cause of litter pollution, erosion and
disturbance to wildlife.
In terms of the impacts on local habitats, woodlands suffered less impact from
visitors than chalk grassland, which is more sensitive to erosion and trampling. The
low number of respondents in wetland and river areas and on the coast made it
difficult to assess the impacts on these habitats but no significant issues were raised.
Visitors to the National Park benefit from the educational activities offered and from
the health benefits of the outdoor activities available. In turn they contribute to
conservation activities and bring economic benefits to local communities through
income generation and related employment.
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Both surveys highlighted the need to educate visitors about their responsibilities to
the National Park and that good visitor management helps deliver positive benefits
and minimise the negative impacts.
Recommendations therefore concentrate on the need for a Visitor Management
Strategy that focuses on educating a wide range of audiences about the benefits of
good visitor management and the impacts visitors can have on the environment in
the National Park.