Nature today | Recreation: disturbed birds, unprecedented effects

The recent study on the effects of recreation on birds (pdf; 8.1 MB) was commissioned by Vogelbescherming Nederland. No fewer than 270 new, international studies have been included since the last literature review in 2008. On the question of an opinion that should summarize all the new research, the first author of this work, Karen Krijgsveld, need not think twice: “People have an idea often not what effect they have on birds! ”

Forget the flight distances

In the previous report on disturbances, from 2008, the so-called flight distances were still a key concept. According to Krijgsveld, we should be less aware of this. “The distance at which an individual bird flies away from a holiday visitor is only one aspect. Recent literature draws increasing attention to the effects on populations. What does disturbance mean for breeding success? And for the efficiency of food search? What are the consequences for the local bird population? , if there is a lot of recreation? And with that: what is the effect of recreation on the carrying capacity of nature reserves for birds?

If you look at the effect of disruption in relation to flight distances, you are in many cases too late, says Krijgsveld. ‘A breeding bird taking flight has certainly already been approached far too closely. Birds are very strongly attached to their nest. We therefore argue for maintaining buffer zones instead of minimum flight distances. For breeding birds, that buffer zone is twice the flight distance. “

Less breeding success

The effect of disturbance on individual birds can be seen quite easily along paths, the researcher says. “You see a wide strip with fewer birds along paths, roads and sailing routes. Not only are there fewer breeding birds of fewer species along the busiest trails, they also breed fewer chicks and move faster to other areas.

“When birds are disturbed not only along paths, but throughout their habitat, you will also see effects on populations,” says Krijgsveld. “You can clearly see that on the beaches. Species such as sandpipers or small terns breed in very few places in our country and where they do, the breeding success is very low. So you can safely say that recreation limits the size of the population. ”


Water sports

Like beach recreation, water recreation in our country is of great importance for the prevention of breeding birds. Krijgsveld: “We are truly a water sports country. But on open water, the disturbance is relatively large. A speed motor boat has a relatively long lasting effect on a very large area. And a little later, the next boat comes by. As a result, there are significantly fewer birds on lakes where recreation takes place. At the same time, you can see that effective measures can be taken with a little effort. Zoning water sports works like a charm! according to Krijgsveld.

One form of water sport that has a disruptive effect is kitesurfing, which has grown tremendously since the last survey in 2008. “It’s about the most threatening activity for birds, with the colorful kites making unpredictable, fast movements in the air. But “If you designate certain demarcated areas with water for kites, you will see an immediate effect. Birds quickly learn that kitesurfers out there are no longer a danger.”

scary birdwatchers

Bird watchers and photographers can be full of disturbances by kitesurfers and mountain bikers, but a certain modesty is also appropriate for them, Krijgsveld emphasizes. “There are few things that are more frightening to a bird than a person who is constantly pointing a telephoto lens at him and trying to get closer and closer. It would be good if nature lovers not only complain about people with stray dogs or cyclists who cross paths but also confront each other about disruptive behavior. ”

Krijgsveld hopes that this report will also make birdwatchers more aware of their disturbing effect. “You can just stand by the red dragon tree for a moment to take a picture. But be aware that after you comes another bird photographer. And then another, and another, and another … Finally, the dragons leave the nest , and the kids die. “

A stray dog ​​on the beach

Two parts

The new report on disturbances caused by recreation consists of two parts. In the first part (pdf; 8.1 MB) the authors describe the insights from the available literature. How does disruption work? What effects does recreation have, and how can we limit them? In the second part (pdf; 13.3 MB) the effects are described per biotope and per bird species.

Usable handle

Leo Bruinzeel, an ecologist at Vogelbescherming Nederland, is pleased with the insights from the report. “A construction manager or a municipality that, for example, wants to build a footpath through a meadow bird area, can never have a really thorough investigation of the possible disturbance made. By now making this report available to the “field” as Vogelbescherming, we hope that this important knowledge will be used when designing our landscape. “

According to Bruinzeel, the disturbance report also contains a clear warning. “With the increasing pressure on outdoor spaces, especially due to the corona crisis, it is clear that we need more green spaces if we are to continue to enjoy nature with birds.”


The Wadden Sea area is a holiday destination for many – from nature lovers to young families. But this beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site is also home to millions of birds. Unfortunately, we make it difficult for them, often unintentionally. This can be done differently, such as by keeping distance from large groups of birds, not letting dogs hunt birds and not entering enclosed areas. Vogelbescherming is campaigning with other nature organizations to make this known, under the name #WADdoejij Want to know more?

More information

Text: Bird protection Holland
Photos: Shutterstock (main photo: The Dwarves); Selected Dance; Hans Peeters

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