Using social media to quantify spatial and temporal dynamics of nature-based recreational activities

Francesca Mancini* (Corresponding Author), George M Coghill, David Lusseau

*Corresponding author for this work

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69 Citations (Scopus)
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Big data offer a great opportunity for nature-based recreation (NbR) mapping and evaluation. However, it is important to determine when and how it is appropriate to use this resource. We used Scotland as a case study to validate the use of data from Flickr as an indicator of NbR on a national scale and at several regional spatial and temporal resolutions. We compared Flickr photographs to visitor statistics in the Cairngorms National Park (CNP) and determined whether temporal variability in photo counts could be explained by known annual estimates of CNP visitor numbers. We then used a unique recent national survey of nature recreation in Scotland to determine whether the spatial distribution of Flickr photos could be explained by known spatial variability in nature use. Following this validation work, we used Flickr data to identify hotspots of wildlife watching in Scotland and investigated how they changed between 2005 and 2015. We found that spatial and temporal patterns in Flickr count are explained by measures of visitation obtained through surveys and that this relationship is reliable down to a 10 Km scale resolution. Our findings have implications for planning and management of NbR as they suggest that photographs uploaded on Flickr reflect patterns of NbR at spatial and temporal scales that are relevant for ecosystem management.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0200565
JournalPloS ONE
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jul 2018

Bibliographical note

Data Availability: All the data and R scripts are available at and

Funding: This work was supported by the University of Aberdeen, Scottish Natural Heritage through a Dominic Counsell PhD studentship, and the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland (MASTS). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation.


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