- Top of page
Previous work has shown that Golden Plovers Pluvialis apricaria guarding chicks utilize heavily disturbed habitat at a lower rate than surrounding areas, but that such rates of avoidance are reduced when the movement of people is restricted to a surfaced footpath. However, there remained some unanswered questions, which are addressed in this paper. First, we examine to what extent habitat avoidance is dependent upon visitor numbers, and find no evidence that Golden Plovers avoided disturbed areas at a site where visitor pressure was half that previously studied. Secondly, we examine whether these relationships between habitat occupancy and disturbance apply to other upland waders and find that Dunlin Calidris alpina habitat utilization in disturbed areas showed a non-significant increase of approximately 50% following the provision of a surfaced footpath, in a manner similar to that observed for Golden Plover. Thirdly, we examine whether the large numbers of visitors (120 per weekend day) using the surfaced footpath impact on Golden Plover breeding success, despite the lack of habitat avoidance. There was no evidence that nest location, clutch survival or chick growth rates were reduced close to the footpath. Together, these results suggest that high levels of disturbance can impact upon habitat usage by upland waders, but only in limited circumstances where visitor pressure is very high (greater than at least 30 visitors per weekend day). However, access to such areas can be permitted for large numbers of visitors without impacting upon wader reproductive performance through the provision of a well-surfaced route.
In England and Wales, concern regarding the detrimental impacts of human disturbance on ground-nesting birds has increased following the introduction of the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act 2000 (Bathe 2007). The Act creates a statutory right of pedestrian access for open-air recreation to mountains, moors, heaths, downs and registered common land. Increased access rights to upland areas are of particular concern owing to the high numbers of visitors such areas attract (e.g. Peak Park Joint Planning Board 1988). Given the internationally important breeding bird assemblage in many such upland areas, of which the wader community is an important component (Thompson et al. 1995), there is the potential for conflict between rights of access and nature conservation.
One of the best-studied upland waders is the Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria, which is found at particularly high densities on some UK upland sites (Ratcliffe 1976), and is listed under Annex 1 of the EU Wild Birds Directive (79/409/EEC). It has been long-studied at Snake Summit in the Peak District National Park, traversed by the Pennine Way long-distance footpath, which is heavily used by walkers (Pearce-Higgins & Yalden 1997). This work has shown that, although relatively insensitive to disturbance during incubation, Golden Plovers exhibit a strong behavioural response to disturbance when guarding chicks, when the adults alarm call in response to human intrusions within 200 m (Yalden & Yalden 1989a, 1990). Consequently, pairs with chicks utilized suitable habitat within 200 m of the Pennine Way at a lower rate than surrounding areas (Finney et al. 2005). However, this avoidance was dependent upon human behaviour, being maximized when the footpath was eroded and the movement of people widespread and unpredictable, but was reduced to 50-m avoidance following resurfacing of the Pennine Way with flagstones, after which over 96% of walkers remained on the path (Pearce-Higgins & Yalden 1997, Finney et al. 2005). Thus, although high levels of disturbance can negatively impact upon habitat utilization by upland waders, it is possible to mitigate such detrimental effects where they occur through appropriate footpath management.
However, this work still leaves some unanswered questions. First, to what extent was the initial 200-m avoidance of the footpath dependent upon the high number of visitors at Snake Summit? Secondly, are these relationships between habitat occupancy and disturbance found in other upland waders? Thirdly, although there was little avoidance of the Pennine Way following resurfacing, did the high levels of disturbance close to the path during this time (120 visitors per weekend day; Pearce-Higgins & Yalden 1997) have a negative impact on breeding success?
We address each of these questions in turn in this paper. Additional data on Golden Plover habitat use from a second location along the Pennine Way in the Peak District with fewer visitors than at Snake Summit are analysed using the methods of Finney et al. (2005) to assess whether habitat use is similarly reduced in proximity to the footpath. The same approach is used to analyse data on Dunlin Calidris alpina distribution at Snake Summit from 1987 to 1998, to see whether this species shows a similar pattern of habitat use in relation to the Pennine Way as Golden Plovers at the same location (Finney et al. 2005). Finally, detailed data on the location and survival of Golden Plover nesting attempts (Pearce-Higgins & Yalden 2003), and growth and survival of radiotagged chicks (Pearce-Higgins & Yalden 2002, 2004) are analysed from the period following footpath resurfacing at Snake Summit, to see whether breeding success is negatively affected by high disturbance levels.