Evolution

      Human recreation

      Two stand-up paddlers on 29 Jan. 2017 in Ermatinger Becken TG/D, an international reserve for waterbirds and migratory birds. This kind of disturbance can cause thousands of waterbirds to take flight. © Stephan Trösch

      The natural environment is exposed to ever greater pressure from human recreation. Leisure activities in nature have seen a massive rise in popularity, and tourism infrastructure is constantly being expanded. Refuges for animals that are sensitive to disturbance have become rare in our country, even more so since the promotion of «unspoilt nature» has become a marketing strategy.

      Outdoor activities are relaxing and can have a positive impact on human health. They are gaining in popularity worldwide and have become a significant economic sector. Outdoor pursuits are popular in our country too. For example, more than two thirds of the Swiss population regularly go on hikes or picnics. Hikers have 65 000 km of trails at their disposal in Switzerland. Almost 1500 km of these lead through mires and almost 500 km through alluvial landscapes.

      Growth in leisure activities

      The popularity of various outdoor sports is growing: the number of people who named hiking as one of the sports they engage in rose by about one third between 2000 and 2014; the number of regular snowshoe trekkers more or less doubled between 2008 and 2014.

      Many regions depend on revenue from tourism, so infrastructure is constantly expanded. For example, 345 million francs were invested in the large-scale project «Andermatt Swiss Alps» between 2007 and 2013. The passenger capacity of cable cars in Switzerland has about doubled since 1990. While the proportion of ski runs using artificially produced snow was close to zero in the early 1990s, half of the 225 km2 of ski slopes now have snowmaking facilities. Overall mobility has increased massively, with almost 100 billion passenger kilometres travelled annually in Switzerland by private motorised transport. In 2015, leisure and shopping accounted for 57 % of passenger kilometres; the largest part is travelled by car.

      Change in passenger transport performance from 1970 to 2016. The volume of private motorised transport and public transport has more than doubled since 1970. In 2016, travel amounted to 132.6 billion passenger kilometres. About three quarters were accounted for by private motorised road transport (cars, motorbikes, coaches), corresponding to almost five times the volume of rail travel. Non-motorised transport (on foot, bicycles) totalled 8.0 billion passenger kilometres, public road transport (trams and buses) 4.5 billion passenger kilometres.

      © Bundesamt für Statistik (2017a)

      Change in passenger capacity of cable cars in Switzerland from 1990 to 2016. The number of cableways has hardly changed in the past 15 years, but capacity is steadily growing, indicating that there has been a hike in performance (greater load capacity and/or greater speed).

      © Seilbahnen Schweiz (2017).

      Change in the area of ski runs using artificial snow in Switzerland from 1990 to 2016 (no data for 2012). About 49 % of ski slopes currently have snowmaking facilities. Artificial snowmaking is much more common in Austria and Italy, but much less widespread in Germany and France.

      © Seilbahnen Schweiz (2017)

      Anytime, anywhere

      While tourist activities in the Alps used to take place mainly in the winter season, the current trend is towards year-round tourism, not least to compensate for declining winter revenues. Mountain railways, for example, advertise downhill mountain-bike routes; the website «Tripadvisor» offers dozens of outdoor activities available all year round.

      Moreover, several outdoor pursuits that can cause great disturbance to wildlife have emerged. Stand-up paddling is just one example of a sport that can be engaged in year-round at an affordable cost thanks to high-quality equipment. Stand-up paddling did not appear on Europe's lakes until the 21st century and is now offered all year round in some places, for example on Lake Constance. Kitesurfing is another new sporting activity that is problematic for waterbirds in particular. The escape distance of waterbirds with regard to kitesurfers can be several hundred metres.

      For birdwatchers and nature photographers as well, experiencing nature is a central part of their hobby. In general, they behave with care and try not to cause unnecessary disruption. Nevertheless, they also like to visit «pristine» environments that have experienced little disturbance, thus further restricting the habitat available to sensitive animals. Along with nature lovers, outdoor-sports enthusiasts have begun to seek out formerly secluded places and habitats. Rockfaces are used for base jumping or via ferratas. Approximately 32 000 geocaches are hidden in Switzerland in all kinds of places, mostly far from paths and trails.

      Even areas with no cable cars and ski lifts are used for a growing range of outdoor sports; the image shows off-piste skiers near Tiefenbach/Realp UR.

      © Fränzi Korner-Nievergelt

      Change in sight?

      Nature’s sensitivity to disturbance from human recreation is rarely a subject of public debate. At most, the guidance of visitor flow is an issue in nature reserves, and refuge zones are established to protect wildlife from human disturbance in winter especially; the attempts are often successful, thanks to signs put up on site. In urban zones and nearby green spaces, it is often impossible to limit access to near-natural areas for walkers, dogs and bathers. While the nature parks created in recent years count nature and landscape conservation among their aims, the main goal is to attract tourists to the region, leading to an increase in visitors and, in turn, more disturbance from leisure activities.

      Refuge zones are an effective legal instrument to regulate visitor flow in a targeted manner. They protect wildlife from disturbance in certain areas during sensitive time periods.

      © Jochen Ihle

      Ski touring and snowshoe trekking are becoming more and more popular, increasing the risk of disturbance to grouse and other wild animals.

      © Yves Bötsch

      Text: Nicolas Strebel

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