Lead Poisoning and Illegal Hunting of Migratory Swans: from biological effects to conservation conflict
Date: 11 November 2019
University of Exeter
PhD in Biological Sciences
Conflicts between people over protecting biodiversity are ubiquitous, damaging and among the most challenging problems facing wildlife conservation worldwide. Such conflicts typically emerge from ‘biodiversity impacts’ when there are disagreements about the management and allocation of natural resources. They are characterised by their ...
Conflicts between people over protecting biodiversity are ubiquitous, damaging and among the most challenging problems facing wildlife conservation worldwide. Such conflicts typically emerge from ‘biodiversity impacts’ when there are disagreements about the management and allocation of natural resources. They are characterised by their inherent multi-layered complexity and their negative impacts on biodiversity, livelihoods and human wellbeing. A shift towards a greater understanding of the human causal drivers of complex conservation issues as well as their ecological impacts is urgently needed to prevent and de-escalate conflicts and halt potentially catastrophic biodiversity loss. I explore the ecological and socio-psychological contexts of two complex conservation issues – the illegal killing of Bewick’s swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii in the Russian Arctic (regarded as a biodiversity impact at risk of emerging as a conflict) and the poisoning of waterbirds from lead ammunition in the UK (currently in a ‘destructive’ phase of conflict) – using approaches and methodologies from the natural and social sciences and psychology. I also provide novel insights into their management and wildlife management more broadly. I first examine the lesser known impacts of blood lead levels on the physiology of wild birds. I determine that sub-lethal impacts of lead on the body condition of Icelandic-breeding whooper swans Cygnus cygnus occur at the lower end of previously established clinical thresholds. Despite partial restrictions on the use of lead ammunition in the UK, I found a high prevalence of lead poisoning within this swan population. I recommend that previously suggested thresholds for adverse clinical effects should be revised downwards for free-living wildfowl. These findings reaffirm the importance of reducing contamination of the environment with lead shot and thus the availability and exposure of lead to waterbirds. Next, using Q-methodology, I examined the perspectives of ammunition users around the use of lead ammunition and its potential impacts on wildlife and humans. Disagreements on the risks arising from the use of lead ammunition and appropriate mitigation measures continue to strain relationships between conservation and shooting stakeholder groups in the UK. I identified two statistically and qualitatively distinct perspectives (‘Open to change’ and ‘Status quo’) among ammunition users, and areas of consensus between these. I argue that the clarification of views held presents an opportunity for the shooting community and other stakeholders to take forward discussions and potentially forge new solutions for this long-running conflict. To identify effective management approaches for reducing the illegal hunting of Bewick’s swans in the Russian Arctic, I examined the risk of accidental hunting and the drivers of deliberate hunting using responses to a questionnaire survey. I found an overall inability of hunters to visually distinguish between three swan species and conclude that the risk of Bewick’s swans being hunted arises in part when they are mistaken for the whooper and mute swan Cygnus olor, both of which are afforded weaker legal protections than the Bewick’s swan in certain areas. Additionally, a significant proportion of hunters were ignorant of the protective laws. I therefore recommend technical solutions that inform hunters about species identification and protective laws. The clarification and mitigation of this issue at the earliest opportunity will help prevent it from emerging as an intractable conservation conflict between conservationists and resource users. Next, using the Theory of Planned Behaviour, I assessed the drivers for deliberate hunting. Hunters were more likely to harbour hunting intentions if they held negative attitudes towards protective laws and positive or neutral attitudes towards hunting Bewick’s swans, perceived few or no practical barriers to hunting them, and believed that the behaviour was socially acceptable. Wider ecological, recreation, legal and economic motivations were also identified. Future conservation interventions should therefore target social and psychological conditions that influence hunters’ attitudes, social norms and perceived behavioural control. Finally, I collate the findings of this thesis and use an established conflict typology to partition the varying dimensions and thematic features of the lead shot conflict and identify characteristics of the illegal hunting issue that may facilitate its emergence as a conservation conflict. I suggest that conflict management approaches can be applied to complex biodiversity impacts to prevent their transition to conflict.
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