We estimated the influence of human disturbance and environmental factors on territory establishment in common ringed plovers Charadrius hiaticula and Eurasian oystercatchers Haematopus ostralegus, to inform the conservation of these species. We examined a 212 km stretch of coastline in the United Kingdom in 2003, mapping all breeding pairs of both study species, as well as the environmental characteristics of beaches and locations of visitors on the beach, the latter measured by filming from a light aircraft. Of the 1,003 200 m sections of beach surveyed, 183 contained ringed plover territories (267 breeding pairs) and 117 contained oystercatcher territories (226 breeding pairs). 38,634 human visitors to the beach were mapped from three flights. Population densities of both ringed plovers and oystercatchers were lower in locations with high visitor numbers, even when accounting for the influence of the environmental characteristics of the beach. The two bird species showed similar rates of territory establishment at very low visitor rates, but oystercatchers showed a stronger negative response when visitor rates reached higher levels. Binary logistic regression models were used to identify areas where the birds would benefit most from reductions in the number of visitors and we illustrate how this information could be used to inform management around sites otherwise favourable for territory establishment.