The results from visitor studies on single heathland sites are summarized in Table 1. The proportion of visitors who arrived on foot varied from almost none to 100%. This depended on the location of the site in relation to local settlements and the type of visitors. Sites with a high proportion of visitors arriving by car were those that can draw people from a considerable distance. These sites, such as the New Forest, Cannock Chase and Ashdown Forest, are large, regionally or nationally known, and would therefore be expected to attract visitors from a wide catchment. In the New Forest study, it was noted that most residents used their cars, often to visit less frequented parts of the Forest which were not well known to tourists, and that they visited more often but for a shorter duration than tourists or day visitors (University of Portsmouth 1996). At Woolmer Forest in Hampshire and Sandford Heath in Dorset, where settlements immediately adjoined access points to the heaths and parking was very limited, most visitors arrived on foot, but at sites more distant from settlements, such as Winfrith in Dorset and Bourley in Hampshire, the majority arrived by vehicle (Stride 2001, RSPB 2003, MORI 2004).
Table 1. Visitor studies on heathlands.
| ||Site area (ha)||No. of respondents||Arriving percentage of all users||Mean distance travelled on heath||Percentage walkers off tracks||Percentage dogs off lead||Source|
|On foot/ by car||Children*||Walkers with dogs||Walkers without dogs|
|SINGLE SITE STUDIES|
|Ashdown Forest, E. Sussex|| || || || || || || || || ||Wealden DC (2004)|
| All||2590|| 218|| 1/99||24||17||29|| || || || |
| Local residents (29%)|| || 63|| 3/97|| ||41|| || || || || |
|Bourley & Long Valley|| 799||2266|| 11/76||12.4||71||15||< 800 m 8% 800–3200 m 42% > 3200 m 41%||42|| 95||MORI (2004)|
|Cannock Chase, Staffs.|| 68 km2||1002|| 14/81|| 8||22||59|| || || ||Smith (2000)|
|Chobham Common, Surrey|| 647|| 882|| || ||58||42|| || || 89||Crest Nicholson (2004)|
|Haldon, Devon||1360|| 116|| || || || || || || ||Turner (2000)|
| Heath|| 60|| 45|| || ||56||12|| || || || |
| Forest||1300|| 71|| || ||20||44|| || || || |
|New Forest, Hants.|| 200 km2|| || || || || || || || ||U of Portsmouth (1996)|
| All|| ||3000|| 1/92|| ||21||49|| || || || |
| Local residents (22%)|| || 660|| || ||42|| || || || || |
|Sandford, Dorset|| || 53||100/0|| ||71|| ||< 500 m 12% 500–1000 m 21% > 1000 m 67%|| 8||100||Stride (2001)|
|Winfrith, Dorset|| 145|| 106|| 8/89|| ||68|| ||< 500 m 5% 500–1000 m 16% > 1000 m 79%||11|| ||Stride (2001)|
|Woolmer Forest, Hants.||1294|| 129|| 91/9|| ||92|| 2|| || ||100||RSPB (2003)|
The only single-site study to give comprehensive data on the distances that people had travelled to visit the heath was for Bourley in Hampshire (MORI 2004). Of all visitors, 16% had travelled less than 800 m, 30% less than 1600 m, 57% less than 3200 m and 71% less than 4800 m to the heathland access point. Of those that had travelled less than 800 m to the site, 55% were walkers, 38% were drivers and 7% were cyclists. Of visitors who had travelled more than 800 m but less than 1600 m to the site, 89% were drivers, only 5% were walkers and 6% were cyclists, and 95% of those who had travelled more than 1600 m were drivers. The proportion of children among visitors varied between 8 and 24%. At Cannock, although only 3% of all visitors arrived by bicycle, 34% of all children were on bicycles (Smith 2000).
At most sites dog walking and walking were the main reasons given for visiting but in the New Forest and at Ashdown Forest, where visitors were divided between local residents and tourists, only 8–15% of tourists but over 40% of residents were dog walkers. Tourists were more likely to stay longer and to have come to camp, caravan, picnic and have barbecues than residents (University of Portsmouth 1996).
The proportion of respondents who gave walking as their main reason for visiting varied widely between sites, with no clear patterns. At most sites, walkers and dog walkers made up 60–100% of those questioned. The low proportion of these users at Ashdown was explained as possibly due to the way visiting was recorded; some of those questioned were sightseeing in their cars, and so visited the car parks but not the heaths (Wealden District Council 2004).
The results from Haldon showed a marked difference between the main reasons for visiting heath and forest, with 56% of respondents visiting the heath to walk their dogs, but only 20% of those visiting the forest doing so. Visitors to heathland were also more likely to go alone, were older and visited more often than those who visited the forest (Turner 2000).
At Bourley, 8% of visitors travelled less than 800 m on the heath, 42% between 800 and 3200 m and 41% over 3200 m (there were no data for the remaining 9%). Where visitors were asked if they left the paths, about 10% did so in Dorset and 42% left the main tracks at Bourley.
Finally, it was clear from all studies where it was recorded that most dog walkers let their dogs off the lead, and at Bourley, when asked, 94% of dog walkers thought it was important that they should be able to do so (MORI 2004).
The results of three collective studies undertaken on a number of heaths are summarized in Table 2. From these, over 90% of all visitors arrived on foot or by vehicle and between about 10–20% of visitors were children. On the Dorset urban heaths (Rose & Clark 2005), 54% of visitors arrived on foot and 37% by car, but across a larger sample of both urban and rural heaths in the county (Clarke et al. in press), only 36% arrived on foot and 59% by car. There is a much higher use of cars (83%) to visit the Thames Basin Heaths (Liley et al. in press).
Table 2. Results from generic visitor studies on heathlands.
| ||Dorset Urban Heaths (Rose & Clarke 2005)||Dorset Heaths (Clarke et al. in press)||Thames Basin Heaths (Liley et al. in press)|
|Site area (ha)|| –|| 4582|| 8400|
|Number of respondents|| 193|| 632|| 1144|
|Arriving: % on foot/by car*||54/37||36/59||13/83|
|% children†|| 19.5|| 9|| 16|
|% walkers with dogs|| 45|| 80|| 59|
|% walkers without dogs|| 14|| 10|| 32|
|Mean distance travelled|| ||Dog walkers 2181 ± 612 m||Dog walkers 2508 ± 1319 m|
|on heath (± sd)|| ||Others 2522 ± 1417 m||Others 2838 ± 1023 m|
Overall, about half the users were dog walkers. Rose and Clarke (2005) found that 80% of dog walkers visited once a day, whereas only 30% of other heath users visited daily. Clarke et al. (in press) found that 90–94% of dog walkers let their dogs off the lead. This study also found that although nearly 80% of dog walkers stay on the main tracks and paths, 47% of their dogs went off the paths and tracks onto the heath and the numbers of dogs leaving the paths tended to be higher where there were more than two dogs together.
Both Clarke et al. (in press) and Liley et al. (in press) obtained information from visitors on where they had been on the heath, by questioning them as they left the heath, helped by maps and aerial photographs. On the Dorset heaths, there was no significant difference in the distance walked on the heaths between those who arrived by car or on foot (Clarke et al. in press). On the Dorset heaths, dog walkers travel an average of 2181 m, less than other users (2489 m). On the Thames Basin heaths, the mean length of route for dog walkers was 2500 m, more than walkers and picnickers (2300 and 1200 m, respectively), but less than joggers, cyclists and horse riders (3900, 4900 and 3200 m, respectively) (Liley et al. in press). In Dorset, dog walkers typically walked a circular route and on average penetrated no more than 700 m out onto the heath (Clarke et al. in press).
Clarke et al. (in press) and Liley et al. (in press) also asked visitors to give their postcode, allowing comparative straight line measurements to be made between their point of origin and the heathland access point they used. In Dorset 68% and on the Thames Basin heaths 63% of people gave a full postcode. Of the remainder, in Dorset 16% and on the Thames basin heaths 33% gave the first half of their postcode (the postcode stem). In both cases, where the recorded distances for all visitors to a particular access point from places with the same postcode stem was relatively small, the missing distances from the same stem postcode to the same heath were set to the median of the observed distances. However, this made little difference to the distribution of distances travelled, so analysis in both cases was based on estimated distances to the access points based only on full postcodes. The cumulative distances visitors travelled to the access point by car and on foot are given in Table 3. In both studies, fewer than 10% of visitors arriving by car had travelled less than 1 km, with about 50% travelling between 3 and 5 km and a small proportion over 10 km. Some 80–90% of walkers travelled less than 1 km, but with a marked difference between the Dorset and Thames Basin heaths, with the latter tending to travel further on foot, such that Clarke et al. (in press) reported that 75% of Dorset visitors walked less than 500 m but only half those reported by Liley et al. (in press) did so. Clarke et al. (in press) also noted that the median distance travelled to heaths with no parking provision was 400 m, but where parking was available the median distance travelled was nearly 4 km. In both studies, calculations showed that the proportion of local residents who visited the heaths declined with increasing distance from the heaths.