Free Public Access To (Hastings) Country Park Is Detrimental To The Environment Essay, Research Paper
To fully understand the environmental impacts caused by the public, it was necessary to find out who the public are, where they come from, why they visit HCP and what their opinions on the park are.
The 1992 HCP survey found most visitors were 25+ years in age, from ‘higher socio-economic groups,’. The latter detail implies that the audience can afford to travel to HCP. The largest group of visitors interviewed in the questionnaire were 60+ in age, corroborating with the survey. The retired can spend more time in recreation, which is why they are usually the majority in tourist situations. The almost even balance of sexes (23 male and 23 female) shows that people are probably visiting HCP as family groups or couples. The types of visitor present in the park will vary according to working hours and school times e.g., families are more likely to visit on weekends at lunch time.
The 1992 survey found, concerning the frequency of visits;
“Most visitors visit less than once a month. In addition there are regular dog walkers.”
“Most visitors have visited the park on numerous occasions. 50% are regular users.”
The questionnaire showed that usually visitors visit the park more than once – only 12% were on their first visit. 58% were regular users, coming at least once a week. The questionnaire does not show that most visitors visit less than once a month, only 37% did. This suggests that there may have been visitor trend changes since 1992. Visitors may be visiting more regularly due to improved transport, shorter working hours or an increase of pensioners in the area. External changes like these (e.g., housing and transport) could be changing visitor habits. This is not to say that the amount of first time visitors has decreased. Seeing the tourism increase in North Europe, the total amount of visitors to HCP has probably increased since 1992.
The 1992 survey it says:
“Users tend to arrive late morning. 11:30 – 12:00 or early evening after work (dog walkers). They stay about two hours.”
The traffic counts and car park counts confirm that visitors tend to arrive in the late morning. On August the 28th, a warm day ideal for picnics, the number of cars entering the park increased from 14 at 1:10 to 26 at 1:55. On the 29th of May, which was also sunny, there were 56 cars altogether at the Firehills. In the evenings there were generally less visitors. Visitors arriving in large numbers at peak times in summer puts pressure on the CP more heavily than usual. CP authorities are dealing with two broadly divided categories of visitor; regular users coming all year round and occasional visitors coming at peak times.
The main factor affecting which category a visitor falls into is the distance they travel to HCP. There are local visitors from Hastings, St Leonards On Sea Ore as well as visitors coming from Sheffield and Lincoln. Distance decay means that fewer visitors will travel from further away, but their numbers are still substantial. The fact that visitors are coming from further afield is encouraging because it shows that HCP has got an appealing quality.
When the visitors were asked what their reaction would be to an entrance fee being introduced, there was a mixture of opinions. The visitor reaction to a fee would depend on what type of visitor they are. Local youth informally playing football are likely to be put off from coming to HCP if a fee was introduced. On the contrary, a family travelling annually from a London suburb to HCP would not be affected much, because they visit rarely and a fee on top of travelling costs would not make much difference.
77% of visitors interviewed in the questionnaire travelled to HCP by car. 2% came by coach. Visitors tend travel independently rather than in large parties. More people chose to park in the Firehills car parks and on Fairlight Road rather than in Ecclesbourne Glen.
Car park positions can be problematic for CP management as they have big impact on the landscape. The car park counts showed one problem of uneven filling of car parks. On the 28th of August at lunchtime, the main car park had 55 cars in it (filled beyond its capacity) while the second car park remained only half full, causing congestion and hazard to pedestrians. Uneven filling of car parks could be reduced by sign posting when the main car park is full or by employing extra staff at busy times diverting cars to the right place.
Certain areas of HCP receive more visitor pressure than others. The honeypot site of HCP are the Firehills. Five of the visitors interviewed chose the Firehills and Warren Glen as their favourite sites. Warren Glen is the least ecologically rich of the glens due to foreign trees brought by the Romans. The attractions to the glen are the unique bluebells which grow outside of wooded areas which are easily destroyed by trampling. There is high risk that the attraction can be detrimentally damaged by visitors.
HCP is a SSSI and an AONB. From places such as Ecclesbourne Glen there are panoramic views of the coast, a diverse array of plant life with 8 different plants discernible on an initial look (see landscape assessment). The diverse ecology of park makes it important to protect. The landscape assessment scores hinted that visitors in large numbers can affect its overall appearance. The Firehills picnic site was 0.3 km away from the main Firehills car park scoring 12 points compared to the East Hill which scored 26 points and was 4.6 km away. Though the correlation was weak and more landscape assessments would be needed, it shows that large amounts of visitors may cause the landscape to deteriorate.
When the visitors were asked what damage they had seen, five people had seen plant damage and dog fouling. Dog fouling is a common site as dog walking is the main activity in HCP. Plant damage is also linked to walking; plant trampling occurs easily along footpaths. Two people had seen litter and graffiti. Graffiti makes the area less attractive and CP management has to spend more on renewing signs.
The visitors’ activities themselves are not particularly harmful. The questionnaire showed that dog walking was the most popular activity, followed by walking. The only activity prohibited in the park is mountain biking as it is considered dangerous to people and the environment.
The visitors were asked if any amenities spoilt the view. An equal amount of people chose the visitor centre and the car parks. Trees could be used to screen the car parks, retaining a natural appearance. The visitor centre is an old building does look run down and could have its exterior renovated.
Footpath erosion is a widespread problem in the park. They require careful attention for their maintenance. Granite chips are not very effective on sloped paths; they are washed down and erode. Granite would be better in flat areas, such as the area of path measured in Ecclesbourne Glen. A more permanent method of slowing the erosion on slopes would be to reinforce them with wooden logs, like the ones used as steps. If logs were laid, they would prevent water forming channels in the path. In Ecclesbourne Glen there was grass on the paths and on either side of them. Excess water was absorbed quickly, preventing the paths from getting soggy and muddy. Paths could be maintained if they were occasionally closed off for reseeding. Grass would stop slippery mud from forming; stopping the creation of dangerous ditches.
Dog fouling can be reduced CP management encourage visitors to clean up after their dogs, by posting reminders and providing bins. They cannot ban dogs, because dog walking is the main purpose for visits. Bins ought to be placed conveniently along footpaths, but tactfully so not to be eyesores, e.g. subtle screening or green coloured bins.
Fire damage is difficult to prevent because policing is needed to catch those who start fires maliciously. CP rangers can improve the rides (breaks in vegetation to prevent fires from spreading) to lessen fire damage. At times of high risk, people could be employed to patrol areas. In the newspaper report, a fireman said that the gorse was ‘tinder dry’; the area was at high risk when the fire occurred.
Vandalism, another criminal activity, requires policing of the park to prevent it – an expensive and difficult task. Instead, more could be spent on renewing damaged signs or signs could be placed in hard to reach areas e.g., hung up in trees above pathways so vandals cannot reach them.
Littering is not a severe problem in the park because litter picking is done regularly. Litter picking could improve by being occasionally concentrated at areas where litter is blown by the wind. CP management’s primary problem is with the amount of visitors coming to the park and the park’s environmental capacity. To reduce the pressure on certain areas of the CP, it is necessary to disperse the visitors more evenly.
This could be done in several ways. A new car park could be made which is sign posted on the main road. This could be possible at Place Farm Cafe; visitors would enter HCP at Fairlight Glen. At the Firehills, this action would reduce the amount of footpath erosion and dog fouling and even littering.
The techniques used by the rangers can all be effective if used consistently over the park. Some footpaths had log steps whilst others were left steep. The hindrance is lack of staff and money. With suitable resources it is possible to gain more control over where visitors can go (through sign posting and car parks) and also monitor wildlife and maintain habitats. At the moment, there are only 2 rangers to mange 660 acres. They rely heavily on voluntary help. Introducing fees can be unfair towards visitors if they cannot afford it or if they are regular visitors.
The future of HCP as with many conservation projects, depends greatly on finance. It is a protected area on an urban fringe and its status is often challenged with plans of urban development.
Visitors will impact the environment as they always have. How detrimental it is depends on how much CP authorities can counter it with their management techniques. To fix the detrimental damage in the park, an injection of money is needed; to fix signs, renovate the visitor centre, reinforce footpaths and establish another car park. The future of HCP depends on the decisions and plans of Hastings Borough Council. Until then, if the park continues as it is now, slowly being damaged by visitor numbers, a slow deterioration can be expected. Evaluation
The main factor limiting this investigation was time. The hypothesis concerns the level of damage caused by the public, so the rate of damage is fundamental to understanding it. Some of the surveys carried out would be more significant if repeated over one year or over two years e.g., the measuring of footpath erosion is illustrative of damage but if the measurements of one year were compared to measurements taken the next, the differences would show the speed of erosion. Landscape assessments could potentially show whether the landscapes are changing over time. Time is the test to see whether the free public access to the park is sustainable tourism.
Landscape assessments are an example of how subjective perceptions can affect data. What one person finds to be beautiful in one assessment may be less beautiful to another. To combat the problem of opinion, several people could carry out each landscape assessment and then the results could be averaged. Scores would therefore be more reliable. Each landscape assessment could also be separated into two; one part dealing with the landscape appearance and one dealing with human impacts to it. If this was done, it would be possible to see if the more beautiful areas were more greatly damaged. When the results of the landscape assessment scores were plotted against their distances from the Firehills, there was a correlation suggesting that the further you got from the Firehills, the less damaged the landscape, but more assessments were necessary to see if the correlation was strong enough to allow conclusion. Also, the relationship between the distance from the Firehills and assessment scores did not take into account the distance to other car parks.
The sphere of influence of HCP was drawn using place names found on visitor car tax discs. This method relies on the assumption that visitors have acquired their discs where they live. The setback is that they may have got their tax discs on holiday or they may have moved home. This survey also missed those visitors who had not travelled to the park by car. It would have been more time consuming and difficult to find every visitor in HCP to ask them where they travelled from, but it would have been more accurate.
The traffic count could have been carried out more often on different days, if more data was collected it would have been possible to find trends as to when the visitors are likely to arrive and leave.
The car park counts were a very easy and straightforward form of investigation. With enough data, the trends became visible with little trouble. However, the counts were only performed at the Firehills and not at other car parks. The overflow areas which were not sign posted, but nonetheless used, were also not included. This means that the data is not representative of the whole park. The car park counts could have been developed further to be linked with the traffic counts, but this would require simultaneous data collection at different areas of the park. From this development, it would be possible to assess how effective the car parks are when large amounts of visitors arrive.
The observations of visitor impacts, amenities, provisions and of management were performed over the period of three months. When evidence of them was seen, it was recorded. It was easier to be aware of all of the categories rather than be looking for one specifically.
The observations of visitor impacts could have been improved by covering the area of the park more thoroughly e.g., by scanning the entire picnic area and other popular sites. Sometimes the quality of photographs was not very good, making it difficult to recall the evidence in detail. Most of the observations of management simply confirmed what the park ranger had already outlined. A fault in the observations is that the area between Fairlight Glen and Ecclesbourne Glen was not visited and therefore not represented.
The main problem in the questionnaire was bias and inaccurate results because of several reasons. Primarily, not enough people were interviewed. Only five of the ten questions asked sampled 43 people. The other questions sampled ten. 50 people at least are needed for significant results. Secondly, the interviews were taken at one time and place. This factor greatly affected question 4:
“If you come often, which areas of the park do you use the most?”
Visitors were interviewed at the Firehills, so that area was understandably one of the most popular sites. Interviews would give more reliable data if they were done in different areas on different days at different times. The main aim would be to hear the opinion from a sample of people who proportionally represent the total number of visitors who visit HCP.
Looking back on the wording of some of the questions, visitors may have been lead into giving answers. This may have been the case in question 8:
“Do you feel that any of the following may spoil the view?”
For this question were the following suggestions; litter bins and signposts, car parks, footpaths and the visitor centre. Beforehand, the visitors may have thought that none of these spoilt the view, but their appearance on the list caused them to consider them. For better fieldwork other methods of investigation could have been used, such as litter surveys to systematically locate and recognise which types of litter are prominent and where. Noise pollution could also have been measured for landscape assessments using a decibel meter.
To make a more thorough enquiry, the same investigations could be carried out in another CP to see whether certain types of damage are exclusive or universal. Essentially, if there was more time it would be possible to gain more data by repeating fieldwork in varied situations and also by including methods of investigation which addressed the problems more specifically e.g., landscape damage assessments. This would make a more reliable and fuller enquiry.
If I were to change the hypothesis I would alter it to:
“Free public access to HCP has caused detrimental damage to the environment.”
The change to the past tense would mean that to prove or disprove the hypothesis, one would need to look at secondary sources such as photographs, wildlife counts or even take verbal accounts from people about what the park used to be like. Then one would assess the current state of the park and then compare the two profiles. This would combine work from both secondary sources and from fieldwork. It would create a more broad and project using more data.