Wildlife viewing recreation offers conservationists opportunities for education and generating revenue but can also have detrimental ecological impacts. To manage these opportunities and impacts effectively, a better understanding is needed of what people value in wildlife viewing events. We examine the relationship between species rarity and value for wildlife viewing recreation. We undertook visitor counts of birdwatchers attending rare (vagrant) bird sightings and collected home postcodes to assess the distances these individuals travelled to achieve these sightings. We also undertook visitor counts at common bird viewing locations for comparison. We regressed birdwatcher numbers against rarity, site protection status, time the bird had been on site and day of the week when the count took place. We undertook these analyses for rare bird sightings only, using a continuous measure of rarity, and for both rare and common species combined, using a categorical rarity index. Species rarity was the clearest predictor of visitor numbers in both the analyses. When studying rare birds only, we found the functional form of the relationship between rarity and visitor numbers to be inverse and asymptotic. Individuals also travelled further to see rarer species. However, while exceptional numbers of visitors attended exceptionally rare bird sightings, the marginal value of rarity appeared to be relatively low. Despite the opportunity for revenue raising and education provided by rare bird sightings, a comparison of visitor numbers at sightings inside and outside protected areas showed no evidence that managers of protected areas capitalise on these opportunities.
- Protected area