Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 21, Issue 11, pp 2967–2986 | Cite as

Recreationist behaviour in forests and the disturbance of wildlife

Original Paper


Forests are popular locations for outdoor recreation and there is considerable evidence highlighting the positive social impacts of these activities. There is also a body of research outlining the range of potentially negative impacts of recreation on wildlife and habitats. This paper provides a summary of current social and natural scientific knowledge on disturbance caused by walking, cycling, mountain biking, horse riding, off-road vehicles use, camping, and some other recreational activities in forests. We identify more than 40 ecological studies of recreational impacts on forests. Greatest attention has been directed towards walking as an activity and the impacts upon birds, soils and flora although long-term ecological studies of wildlife or habitat disturbance are scarce. Impacts include trampling by foot, hoof and tyre, animal behaviour change and the spread of pests and pathogens. Considerably less work has been carried out on the social dimensions of recreational disturbance. In this article the authors draw on behaviour theory in an attempt to identify the key factors influencing human behaviour in the context of recreational disturbance. Cognitive theories highlight the importance of attitudes and behavioural control, whilst social practice theories emphasise the impact of behavioural routines and contexts. Management actions may be better targeted at promoting alternative behaviours rather than trying to prevent current ‘problem’ behaviours. We advocate greater engagement with these theories to better integrate social science with ecological studies, and improve understanding and management of interactions between recreation needs and conservation.


Recreation Forests Wildlife Disturbance Management Integrated approach 



This research was funded by the Forestry Commission Great Britain under the Human Dimensions of Species Management project. The authors would like to thank Phil Taylor, Chris Quine, and an anonymous referee for comments provided on earlier drafts.


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Copyright information

© © Crown Copyright as represented by the Forest Research, UK, 2012 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Forest ResearchCentre for Human and Ecological Sciences, Northern Research StationRoslin, MidlothianUK
  2. 2.Forest ResearchCentre for Human and Ecological SciencesFarnhamUK

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