The biodiversity implications of changes in coastal tourism due to climate change

Emma G. Coombes, Andy P. Jones, William J. Sutherland

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25 Citations (Scopus)


Nature-based recreation can have deleterious impacts on biodiversity, even at low levels of habitat use. Such impacts can arise from a variety of sources such as trampling of vegetation or disturbance of nesting birds. Sensitive, yet highly visited, environments such as the coast are particularly vulnerable. It is predicted that levels of coastal recreation may increase in some areas as a result of climate change, but little is known about the potential implications for flora and fauna. This study is based on a case study of two beaches, Holkham and Cley, on the coast of East Anglia, UK. Visitor surveys were undertaken across a year to obtain information on visitors' habitat use at these sites, including an analysis of the routes they walked. From this, estimates of their current impacts on vegetation cover, vegetation species richness and ringed plover populations were made by applying known relationships between visitor passes and disturbance. Future changes in levels of recreation were modelled under two climate change scenarios, and the biodiversity implications were estimated. This study finds that overall levels of vegetation cover and diversity are likely to decline, although only by a small amount, if future visitor numbers increase due to warmer and drier weather conditions. However, these declines will be differential with dunes and areas close to entrances receiving the strongest magnitude impacts. Disturbance from visitors is found to already strongly restrict the distribution of ringed plovers at the study beaches, yet the few remaining areas of suitable habitat may disappear if tourism levels increase. Management strategies which limit the spatial extent of visitor impacts, possibly by the use of beach zoning, may help to minimize any additional reductions in biodiversity that accompany changes in recreation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-330
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Conservation
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2008

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