On nature reserves, closure of access along established footpaths or nature trails may sometimes be required for conservation reasons. This study examined the effectiveness of preventing access (via observation) and desirability as perceived by walkers (via questionnaire), of six types of path barrier in 104 ha of birch Betula woodland within Craigellachie National Nature Reserve, Inverness-shire (northeast Scotland).
Overall use of the reserve was estimated by automatic counters at the three entrances during May and June 1976. On average 235 people visited each day. A notice at entrances informed of closure of some paths: 'We are improving this Reserve by restricting the number of paths. Please help us by keeping to the main path and by keeping your dog on a lead.'
Six types of path barrier were tested: logs; branches; painted arrows on a single post; a pair of posts linked by a strand of barbed wire; rope-linked posts; and posts with a narrow plank, bearing a small notice 'Path closed for restoration'.
Barriers were placed where a single path divided into two at four different junction types, one of which was left open (16 in total):
i) junction where narrower path blocked (3);
ii) junction where wider path blocked (5);
iii) paths of similar width, one blocked (4);
iv) path blocked (regardless of width) had a visible objective e.g. a lake, the alternative path lacking such an objective (4).
The junctions were arranged in two groups of eight. Paths in each group were closed with the same type of barrier (or left open as controls). Each day the type of barrier was changed on one of the groups; 14 days were needed for a full cycle of barriers and control days to be applied at all junctions (the cycle was repeated three times). Visitor numbers using each path and behaviour on meeting a barrier were recorded.
The effectiveness of barrier type in diverting visitors (descending order) were: plank with notice (91%), barbed wire (80%), branches (72%), rope (63%) arrows (48%) and logs (45%).Unsurprisingly, narrower paths were more readily closed than wider paths.
There were only 36 observations of barrier interference: 24 of logs being moved, nine of branches being lifted or kicked aside, and three of rope barriers being taken down.
Comparison of the number of observations of each visitor category ignoring barriers, with the numbers expected (based on the proportions of each type of visitor entering the reserve), revealed that children ignored barriers most (observed/expected: 5.15; n=35 ignoring a barrier). Of the adult categories, birdwatchers took least notice of barriers (observed/expected: 1.33; n=13 ignoring a barrier), followed by dog walkers, smartly dressed visitors, hill walkers and casually dressed visitors.
In the questionnaire survey, respondents expressed a preference for the plank barriers (42%), barbed wire was least preferred (2%).
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