Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Visitor numbers in 2020 - a review

As part of the management of Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve people counters are installed at strategic locations around the Reserve. Over the last year they have been constantly recording people’s visits to the site and show some interesting results as to how the Covid-19 pandemic has influenced visitor behaviour. The data below was collected from just one access point on the Reserve so doesn't reflect the total number of visitors using the site. With Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve covering over 8,000 acres the true number will be far higher.

The most obvious information that can be gleamed from the graph below is the huge surge of visitors to the site that coincided with the relaxation of lockdown rules and the opening of coastal car parks and holiday lets. While it was a boost to everyone’s well-being to get out and visit this magical place; the unprecedented numbers had a detrimental impact on the Reserve wildlife through huge amounts of disturbance from people and un-leashed dogs, with the breeding shorebirds taking the brunt of the impact.

Graph 1: depicting the daily total passes at one access point on the Reserve

The coastline of Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve is widely used as a breeding site by Ringed Plover and is noted as the most important breeding site in the North-East of this red-listed bird. Several species of Tern also make epic migrations to reach the Reserve to breed, including Little Tern, a Schedule 1 species, which makes it an illegal offence to disturb them.

All our breeding sites suffered from much higher disturbance than normal which had a direct impact on their breeding productivity and chick survival. Despite signage and a wardening presence some people frequently disregarded the information and walked through the seasonal restrictions. Ringed Plover breeding attempts were lower and many birds were pushed into breeding in ever-dwindling pockets of un-disturbed land.

Incidences of wild camping and bonfires increased dramatically on the Reserve over these months. This is understandable as many people wanted to get that ‘wild’ experience after being cooped up for months. However, this is not permitted under the byelaws of the Reserve and you can be prosecuted. With bonfires, wildfire is a real risk as the marram grass during the summer can be tinderbox dry and only require an errant spark to explode into an uncontrollable inferno. Camping also means constant disturbance for our breeding birds who can be displaced from nests and abandon them without campers even realising.

We do want to welcome visitors to the site but it is also important to remember that Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve is named such because it is one of the best examples of intertidal mudflats, dune systems and botanically rich humid dune slacks in the country. It supports internationally important aggregations of breeding and wintering birds as well as several rare botanical species. The Reserve is managed to protect and enhance these features with a set of byelaws that visitors must follow to reduce their impacts. The full list of byelaws can be found on the back of our visitor welcome panels dotted around the Reserve. If the Reserve is accessed in the right way, people can have minimal impact on the habitats and wildlife can thrive here. It is a delicate balance, and it can very easily flip the other way with visitors unintentionally degrading the site that they have travelled to visit.

Graph 2: Total monthly passes through a single access point on the Reserve

The first lockdown and visitor surge are clearly visible in the total monthly breakdowns graph above. January and February start as you would expect with low daily visitor numbers slowly increasing as the days get longer. March shows a levelling off of visitors as lockdown comes into force on 16th March and Holy Island car park is closed on the 25th. April is usually a very busy time on the island with many visitors visiting during the Easter break but this year was a completely different story. As we experienced the sunniest spring on record, people remained indoors as can be seen in the April people counter data. In April numbers were just half that were made in March. Once lockdown measures were relaxed in mid-May a small increase in visitors were noted but May still had less people counted than February! The numbers exploded in July and August due to the reasons discussed above. As in a normal year numbers decline into the autumn months. Between October and November there is a sharp drop to almost April numbers which is likely due to the second lockdown coming into force after Covid cases start to increase dramatically. December and January have been very quiet so far with just small peaks from Christmas and New Year walkers.

Hopefully this will be the final lockdown with such tough restrictions and we can resume some level of normality very soon. With the vaccine rollout and likely restrictions still in place on international travel we are likely to have another exceptionally busy summer on the Reserve. Once again exclusion zones will be dotted around the Reserve this summer, so to help us protect this magical place please read and adhere to any signs as you enter the site so you can enjoy the Reserve while allowing our wildlife to remain undisturbed. We look forward to seeing you soon.

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