Recreational ecosystem services in protected areas: A survey of visitors to Natura 2000 sites in Italy
Da Re R
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The demand for enjoyable recreational environments is growing. At the same time, the increase of urban areas and intensively managed agricultural areas are deemed major threats to ecosystem services provision. Therefore, protected areas are becoming increasingly important for providing recreational ecosystem services. In this study, we analysed visitors’ profiles from on-site surveys at 10 Natura 2000 sites in different Italian regions. We gathered information on recreational activities, behaviour, expenditure, satisfaction of the visitors, and knowledge of Natura 2000. Predominant recreational activities were hiking, cycling, and wine and food tasting. Mean daily expenditure per visitor amounted to 48.56 €. The level of satisfaction with site-specific facilities and features was generally high, whereas knowledge about the Natura 2000 network was scarce. In the light of the visitors’ behaviour, we identified three main types of visitors: the regional excursionist, the local recreationist, and the sportive tourist. The presented findings provide useful insights for Natura 2000 site management and related recreational ecosystem services as well as for guiding visitor management. Management implications Our survey reveals several aspects related to recreational visits of protected areas, which are important for managing ecosystems and visitors: • The revealed main recreational activities can help to improve the recreational opportunities or visitor management. • Estimation of visitor expenditure indicates economic benefits at the local level. • Visitor types describe visitor behaviour and can guide the promotion of the sites. • Suggestions of the respondents for improving the recreational quality of the sites include more initiatives, guided tours and information, as well as the improvement of the roads and the signage system.