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Keywords:

  • breeding success;
  • guillemot Uria aalge;
  • kittiwake Rissa tridactyla;
  • predation risk;
  • visitor access;
  • visitor management

Summary

  • 1
    Human disturbance has been associated with declines in breeding success in numerous species and is of general concern to conservationists. However, the current framework for predicting and minimizing disturbance effects is weak and there is considerable uncertainty about why animals are disturbed by people in the first place.
  • 2
    We developed a behavioural model of perceived predation risk as a framework for understanding the effects of disturbance on cliff-nesting birds. This encompassed the concept that the effects of disturbance should increase with increasing numbers of visitors, and decrease with distance from the nest, an insight ignored in current conservation practice.
  • 3
    The predictions of this model were tested using field data on nesting success in two species of seabird, kittiwake Rissa tridactyla and guillemot Uria aalge. Statistical models of nesting success in both species suggested that perceived predation risk is a good predictor of the effects of disturbance.
  • 4
    Synthesis and applications. Our findings suggest that fixed set-back distances and buffer zones are likely to be inappropriate conservation measures in situations where the numbers of visitors to wildlife areas fluctuates spatially and temporally, as is generally the case. In managing access to wildlife areas there is a need to ensure that larger parties of visitors are kept further away from the nesting areas of vulnerable species or that set-back distances are determined for the largest party likely to visit the site.