The COVID-19 pandemic led to many European countries imposing lockdown measures and limiting people’s movement during spring 2020. During the summer 2020, these strict lockdown measures were gradually lifted while in autumn 2020, local restrictions started to be re-introduced as a second wave emerged. After initial restrictions on visitors accessing many Nature Protected Areas (PAs) in Europe, management authorities have had to introduce measures so that all users can safely visit these protected landscapes. In this paper, we examine the challenges that emerged due to COVID-19 for PAs and their deeper causes. By considering the impact on and response of 14 popular European National and Nature Parks, we propose tentative longer-term solutions going beyond the current short-term measures that have been implemented. The most important challenges identified in our study were overcrowding, a new profile of visitors, problematic behavior, and conflicts between different user groups. A number of new measures have been introduced to tackle these challenges including information campaigns, traffic management, and establishing one-way systems on trail paths. However, measures to safeguard public health are often in conflict with other PA management measures aiming to minimize disturbance of wildlife and ecosystems. We highlight three areas in which management of PAs can learn from the experience of this pandemic: managing visitor numbers in order to avoid overcrowding through careful spatial planning, introducing educational campaigns, particularly targeting a new profile of visitors, and promoting sustainable tourism models, which do not rely on large visitor numbers.
Funding: The project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research programme (Project FIDELIO, grant agreement no. 802605).
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