Missing out on species because a place is legally out of bounds?

What species have you missed out on because a certain place is out of bounds?

Just as an example, I live in Hong Kong. Now, Mai Po Nature Reserve is one of the city’s highlights for any nature lover.

To get into most of the reserve requires a permit, for which you should write to the government. It is free, and most birders have the permit. But I can imagine an amateur naturalist not knowing how to get the permit or not bothering to apply.

To get into the ‘boardwalk area’, which is the best mudflat in the region for waders and gulls, requires a second permit which you cannot get without being a member of the WWF. That’s HK$1800 a year, which is roughly US$230. A friend of mine mentioned that perhaps somebody of modest means wouldn’t want to pay. And because I’ve ticked most of the regular waders on my list, even I have foregone renewing my boardwalk permit this year.

What would I miss if hypothetically I had never been to Mai Po? It’s not that there aren’t other places to look for waders. Indeed, I myself have photographed a decent variety at places like San Tin, Nam Sang Wai and Pui O.

But I would struggle to find:

  • Swinhoe’s Egret

  • Common Shelduck

  • Baikal Teal

  • Mallard

  • Imperial Eagle

  • Northern Lapwing

  • Grey Plover

  • Black-tailed Godwit

  • Bar-tailed Godwit

  • Eurasian Curlew

  • Far Eastern Curlew

  • Nordmann’s Greenshank

  • Asian Dowitcher

  • Terek Sandpiper

  • Red Knot

  • Great Knot

  • Slaty-backed Gull

  • Saunders’s Gull

  • Pallas’s Gull

  • Caspian Tern

  • Gull-billed Tern


Hmmm, that’s interesting. I don’t think that there are too many places with those types of restrictions in the US. There are some Nature Conservancy properties/places managed by NGOs/non-profits with rare species on them that you need permission to visit (though hopefully folks posting from them are obscuring as the access restriction is usually to prevent poaching). I’ve never had to pay to access those though, just get permission (or be working on them). Are there conservation based reasons for restricting access to the areas you discuss?

Certainly there are many parks in the US that require access fees, though usually much less than what you describe. Most parks and similar government areas for land preservation/conservation are generally open to access (though you might not be allowed in certain areas where humans walking around could cause damage). In my experience, you’d actually need a research permit or similar to work in those areas, but I think that’s a bit different from people just wanted to access for nature viewing.


I imagine that they have the permits to prevent just anyone from messing stuff up in the reserve, but that is still disappointing if a person can’t get in for whatever reasons.

I honestly can’t think of anything, besides my neighbors’ properties, lol. (someone on my street had to put up no trespassing signs, bc they dont want people in their grassland/hedgerow-type property.) So, I am guessing that I am missing some plant species bc of that.

Like @cthawley said, the US has quite a few open access parks, beaches, and whatnot. And I live in Michigan, which I have been told has a lot more free access parks than other states, so I guess I am lucky. Here, if you do have to pay a fee, you get a sticker for your car so when you park in the parking spaces, they know you’re supposed to be there.

This was an interesting thing to post, it really made me think, and made me realize how lucky I am.

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It is also the case for some Mediterranean islets and peninsulas where any access requires a permit and/or close supervision. And of course there are peculiar cave ecosystems full of endemic species, which are literally kept under a lock and key.


Yep. And there’s so much to see in caves beyond the wildlife, too. I would love to see the inside of Lechuguilla in Carlsbad NP or the cave of crystals in Niaca, Mexico. They are without a doubt two geologic wonders of the world, but you cannot enter unless you have a research permit, and unfortunately, I am not a professional geologist. Very little chance that I’d ever be allowed in. The Cave of Crystals in particular is closed, even if you are a researcher, because the mining company that owns it is no longer operating the pumps that keep water from flooding the caves.


I don’t know the details, but I imagine Komodo Island for the Komodo dragons is a place like this. It definitely is not easy or free to go there: you need a local flight to an island close to Komodo Island, and then take a boat from there to the island. And then there’s a small entrance fee for the island itself.

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The Barton Springs salamander and Austin blind salamander are endemic to Barton Springs in Austin, TX. The springs that these salamanders are found in are visible but pretty much inaccessible to the public. Many of Texas’ Eurycea are actually endemic species since they are reliant on the Edwards Aquifer.

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In Britain, most nature reserves are free to enter. Restrictions on access are more likely to be to protect the wildlife than to take an entrance fee. There used to be a charge to enter some Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reserves, maybe there still is. Many National Trust properties have a steep entrance fee but they tend to be the stately homes and gardens rather than the wild places. In both cases you can become a member and get free entrance.

If there is a local wildlife site that is too expensive to get into, you could offer to volunteer for the organisation.

I know the title says “place,” but I read it as “country.” US citizens are still prohibited from traveling to Cuba except under specific circumstances, so that puts Cuban endemic species out of reach of most Americans, even if they have the means to travel.

The thing is, if a tourist has the means to fly all the way to Indonesia, they probably can pay for the Komodo tour, which is quite famous actually.

Some of those wildlife cruises to Antarctica or the Galapagos are going to be far more expensive.


Near my city, there was this school called Valley School which had a huge amount of bird species - stuff like white rumped shama, minivets, just amazing spot in general.
You would take a path near the school (not in the school itself)
Then the brewery owner who owned the land closed off the path.
So yeah, the top birding hotspot of the city is shut down, possibly forever


The recently closed thread about North Korea would definitely qualify for this topic.

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Spots like Deseret Ranch here in Utah aren’t as open as they used to be. Or the famous Attu island.

I once snuck into a Port Authority facility to see Black Skimmers- and into a water treatment plant for a Bean Goose


(A previous thread re: Public Lands the Public Can’t Access that may be of some interest)


Or be me-and sneak in and pray to god that I don’t get caught or arrested.

The Port Authority base experience was terrifying though-I will give it that. Snuck in the gate behind a truck. Saw the flock of Skimmers and immediately had some folks in fatigues coming towards me. Just sort of awkwardly told them I was stuck in the base and needed to be let out. Luckily they just opened the electric gate.

I could’ve been absolutely screwed over there.

I’ve been pulled over by border patrol more times than I can count too, in California, Texas, and Arizona.


There’s a 400+ acre forest in Bridgeport, Connecticut (USA) named Remington Woods that’s been off-limits to the public for decades. Remington Arms (the gun manufacturer) dumped waste and tested munitions there for decades. Environmental remediation has been going on there since the 1990s, as ordered by the EPA. Most of it is fenced off, which is a shame since it’s the largest forest in Bridgeport, but at this time it’s just not safe to have public access (although we hope that changes in the near future).

I’m not under any illusions that there’s any rare species there but I’m just very curious about what species are thriving there. Bridgeport and its neighboring towns are very developed and built up and here we have a 400-acre forest that’s been fenced off for decades. Of course, there’s disturbance since remediation has been taking place but that’s nearing completion. There’s been 1-2 surveys done in the past 20 years or so iirc, but I would love the opportunity to see what’s there for myself someday.


McNeil Island, Washington. There have been some marine mammal studies done there, and much of the island encompasses the South Puget Sound Wildlife Area. Those marine mammal studies required special permission, because the island is also a Special Commitment Facility for violent sex offenders who have completed their prison sentences but are deemed too dangerous to release back into society; the only residents are the inmates and facility staff.

Legally out of bounds? Not a lot. There’s some (rough footed mud turtles for instance) but mostly it’s physically accessible. I’m not in fantastic shape and, well, some of the coolest critters are most abundant in hard to access places that I’m just not physically able to make it to.

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That happens all the time. Many species of plants only grow in protected reserves. The more strongly protected ones only allow entry on marked trails which typically avoid the most vulnerable places where the rarest organisms tend to be. Some of them are extremely vulnerable and even professionals vist them very rarely - for examply certain locations in the Giant Mountains (Krkonoše) national park.

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