Many lowland heathlands have been designated as Special Protection Areas under the European Union Birds Directive as they support populations of bird species of European importance listed in Annex I of the Directive, including Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus, Woodlark Lullula arborea and Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata. Many lowland heaths are near to human settlements and are heavily used as open spaces by those living nearby. A number of past visitor surveys have established the range of uses to which urban heaths are subject, and the attitudes of those who use them. We have collated a number of these visitor surveys, many of which are unpublished reports relating to single sites, in order to provide a broad summary of access to heathlands. The majority of visitors to urban and suburban lowland heaths visit sites regularly and live nearby (within 5�km). A large proportion of visitors drive to sites and dog walking is the usual purpose for a visit. Visits are typically short, with the average dog walker travelling less than 2.5�km on the heath. Dog walkers typically stay on the paths, but most let their dog off the lead and consider it important to be able to do so. On large regionally or nationally known rural sites such as the New Forest, more visitors are day trippers and tourists, fewer are dog walkers, they stay for longer and their reasons for visiting differ from those of local residents. The information presented here is relevant in helping to inform decisions on the location of new housing development, and mitigating the impacts of existing and new settlements, as well as helping the heathland manager to make provision for visitors in ways that are most compatible with wildlife conservation.
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