Vehicular tracks and the influence of land use and habitat protection in the British uplands

Clutterbuck, B. ORCID: 0000-0003-3239-8220, Burton, W., Smith, C. ORCID: 0000-0003-3285-0379 and Yarnell, R.W. ORCID: 0000-0001-6584-7374, 2020. Vehicular tracks and the influence of land use and habitat protection in the British uplands. Science of The Total Environment: 140243. ISSN 0048-9697

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Uplands cover around 25% of the Earth's land surface and comprise highly sensitive soils and habitats of global ecological importance that together provision a suite of valuable ecosystem services. Access to upland areas for land management and recreation is increasingly dependent on the use of motorised vehicles. However, despite the widely acknowledged detrimental consequences of vehicle track development and use, this activity is not currently quantified or monitored.

In this study, surfaced and unsurfaced vehicular tracks, footpaths and land cover in an approximately 5% sample of mainland British uplands (1910 km2) were mapped using aerial imagery dating between 2007 and 2016. An information theory approach was used to identify models that best predicted the presence and extent of surfaced tracks as a function of land cover, protected status, extent of blanket peat, proximity to human population and altitude.

A total of 2104 km of track were recorded, with 27% defined as being surfaced. This equates to a mean (±SE) track density of 1.10 ± 0.15 km km−2 in current use by vehicles across upland Britain. Areas of managed heather and grass-dominated habitat were the primary predictors of the presence and extent of surfaced tracks and we found no evidence that areas of conservation interest with protective designation were less susceptible to track construction.

These data indicate that wide-ranging vehicular track networks exist in ecologically sensitive environments across the British uplands, with implications for the integrity of sensitive habitats and soils. Land use and management activities that are not facilitating ecological improvement or conservation appear to be driving the presence of surfaced tracks in 'protected' areas. The findings suggest that: a) urgent review and revision of upland track legislation is required in Great Britain; and b) wider assessment of upland tracks should be undertaken to inform global conservation strategies for these environments.

Item Type: Journal article
Publication Title: Science of The Total Environment
Creators: Clutterbuck, B., Burton, W., Smith, C. and Yarnell, R.W.
Publisher: Elsevier
Date: 16 June 2020
ISSN: 0048-9697
S0048969720337645Publisher Item Identifier
Divisions: Schools > School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences
Record created by: Linda Sullivan
Date Added: 19 Jun 2020 13:18
Last Modified: 16 Jun 2021 03:00

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