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Monitoring recreation across European nature areas: A geo-database of visitor counts, a review of literature and a call for a visitor counting reporting standard

Abstract: 
Nature recreation and tourism is a substantial ecosystem service of Europe's countryside that has a substantial economic value and contributes considerably to income and employment of local communities. Highlighting the recreational value and economic contribution of nature areas can be used as a strong argument for the funding of protected and recreational areas. The total number of recreational visits of a nature area has been recognised as a major determinant of its economic recreational value and its contribution to local economies. This paper presents an international geo-database on recreational visitor numbers to non-urban ecosystems, containing 1267 observations at 518 separate case study areas throughout Europe. The monitored sites are described by their centroid coordinates and shape files displaying the exact extension of the sites. Therefore, the database illustrates the spatial distribution of visitor counting throughout Europe and can be used for secondary research, such as for validation of spatially explicit recreational ecosystem service models and for identifying relevant drivers of recreational ecosystem services. To develop the database, we review visitor monitoring literature throughout Europe and give an overview of such activities with special attention to visitor counting. We identify one major shortcoming in the available literature, which relates to the presentation, study area definition and methodological reporting of conducted visitor counting studies. Insufficient reporting hampers the identifica- tion of the study area, the comparability of different studies and the evaluation of the studies' quality. Based on our findings, we propose a standardised reporting template for visitor counting studies and advanced data sharing for recreational visitor data. Researchers and institutions are invited to report on their visitor counting studies via our web interface at rris.biopama.org/visitor-reporting and thereby contribute to a global visitor database that will be shared via the ESP Visualisation tool.