Recreation : Land-based recreation : Summary

A summary of potential effects

Soil compaction


Modification of habitat


Disturbance to wildlife


Intertidal areas can come under considerable pressure from recreational activities as not only do they support a variety of land based activities, such as walking and horse riding, but they also provide access channels to the water for waterside recreation.

There are a range of potential impacts which land-based recreational activities may have on the natural environment. Some will be as a direct result of the activity (e.g. erosion caused by trampling), whereas others are indirect (e.g. the clearing of land to provide parking or other facilities).

Changes to the feature associated with land-based recreation do not necessarily lead to impacts. The level of acceptable change determines the stage at which a site-level change will become an impact.

Soil Compaction

Impacts associated with trampling vary according to the nature of the site, the soil which constitutes the feature, and the levels and types of recreational activities.

Impacts are particularly severe in and around sand dune areas. This is because these areas form major access points to beaches and also possibly because participants are unaware of their significance and vulnerability.


As with soil compaction, erosion of a feature is also caused by exertion of pressure. However, the greatest erosional forces exerted on a feature come from natural sources such as rain, wind and, in the intertidal area, wave action

As recreational activities tend to be concentrated along specific access routes or in small areas, their impact can be magnified, causing significant erosional patches within a site or feature. Such erosion is particularly evident in coastal areas frequented by walkers and in the vicinity of heavily used access points. Recreation may have a particular erosional impact on sand dunes and sand flats.

Modification of Habitat

The construction of car parks and other landside development often involves extensive site preparation and can result in feature modification and impact.

Over the longer term, the magnitude of impacts from formal car parking may be partially offset by a reduction in the impacts associated with unmanaged parking in sensitive areas, such as in between sand dunes.


Recreational participants may be a localised source of litter, although much of the litter found on beaches and intertidal areas originates from other landside sources or from ships.

Disturbance to Wildlife

Seals are a particularly attractive species for wildlife watchers. As a result, accessible colonies of seals in mSAC areas are coming under increasing pressure from visitors. These visitors can cause disturbance to the seals, although the long-term impacts are uncertain.

Disturbance to birds may result from many activities. The evidence of the impact of these short term events on wider population levels is not conclusive.


Where used too close to dry vegetation, disposable barbecues can decimate large areas of vegetation in sensitive areas. Vegetated sand dunes are particularly susceptible as people often light barbecues in close proximity to car parks or in-between sand dunes in an attempt to avoid the wind.


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