Who benefits from recreational use of protected areas?

Josephine E. Booth, Kevin J. Gaston, Paul R. Armsworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Public support for protected areas depends, in part, upon clear demonstrations of the importance of the ecosystem services provided by these areas. However, only a limited number of studies have examined the value of protected areas in providing these services, and even less work has assessed how equitably these benefits are distributed across society. We used on-site surveys to characterize people who derived recreational benefit from a set of areas in the United Kingdom that were originally protected for their conservation value. We found that an unrepresentative subset of society enjoyed this benefit. Site visitor populations were biased towards older people and men, and minority groups were starkly underrepresented, comprising only 1% of overall visitors. When the characteristics of visitors were examined, the more privileged sectors of society were found to have received disproportionate benefits. These biases persisted across weekday and weekend visits and whether sites were considered altogether or individually. Conservation goals will only be met if broad public support for the natural environment is engaged and maintained, for example, through nature recreation. However, our results suggest that at present a worrying disconnect exists between public conservation efforts and much of society.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Ecosystem services
  • Protected areas
  • Recreation
  • Recreational benefits
  • Sites of special scientific interest
  • Social inclusion
  • SSSI
  • Surveys

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