M.Sc Thesis

M.Sc StudentGeisler Gal
SubjectToward Integrative Planning of Protected Areas:
Understanding the Ecological Impacts and Social
Benefits of Campsites in the Negev
DepartmentDepartment of Architecture and Town Planning
Supervisor ASSOCIATE PROF. Assaf Shwartz
Full Thesis text - in Hebrew Full thesis text - Hebrew Version


In the past few decades, there has been a significant increase in the volume of outdoor recreational activities, leading to a conflict between nature protection and recreational opportunities. A common solution to this conflict has been to restrict people’s activities in protected areas, thereby limiting people’s opportunities for interaction with nature. However, the importance of these opportunities for nature interaction is ever-growing. Today, most of the world’s population lives in biologically impoverished cities isolated from meaningful nature experiences, leading to a gradual erosion of the public’s emotional connection to nature and the willingness to protect it. Therefore, it is necessary to find a balance between biodiversity protection, the provision of recreational opportunities, and meaningful interactions with nature that connects people to it.  One of the places where people can have meaningful interaction with nature is campsites in nature reserves. Research has demonstrated the positive effect outdoor sleeping can have on both people’s affinity to nature and their wellbeing. Although some empirical evidence exists on the impacts of recreation activity on biodiversity in nature reserves, the effects of campsites are poorly understood and to date most research focused on few taxa (e.g. plants and birds) overlooking others important taxa. Furthermore, desert ecosystems represent the least studied habitat with regards to impacts of recreational activities in general.

In this study, we aimed to bridge this important knowledge gaps by focusing on the least studied habitat and recreational activity, camping sites in the desert, and investigating jointly the recreational value of campsites and their ecological impacts. Specifically we asked three main research questions: (1) How desert campsites effect biodiversity in their close vicinity?(2) What is the profile of desert campsites users and what are the traits and properties they are looking for while choosing a campsite to sleep in? (3) To what extent the location and the facilities of the campsite affect users nature experience and overall satisfaction? To answer these questions, we conducted social and ecological surveys in campsite in the Negev desert of Israel. The surveys involved: (1) ecological surveys of birds, plants, rodents and scorpions in campsites and control plots, (2) a survey of campsite users (N=280) on satisfaction, motivations and perceptions of campsites, and (3) a nation-wide survey (N=322) on perceptions of campsites and the attributes individuals prioritize in campsites, in desert nature reserves.

Our results demonstrate that when desert campsites are located outside nature-rich areas, they have relatively moderate negative impact on biodiversity for three out of the four taxa studied (birds, scorpions and rodents). Bird communities were dominated by synanthropic species in high intensity campsites. Additionally, the different levels of use intensities in the campsites seem to influence the biodiversity in the campsites’ surroundings in such manner that increasing use intensities will have increased impact on the surrounding area. Surprisingly, even when campsites were located in nature-poor areas, users’ satisfaction was relatively high and among the general public ecological quality (i.e. vegetation complexity) did not have strong influence on people’s preferences of/for campsites.