Understanding conservation conflicts surrounding predation and game shooting interests
Swan, George Julius Fraser
Date: 13 November 2017
University of Exeter
PhD in Biological Sciences
Many predatory species cause negative impacts on human interests by threatening game, livestock or human safety. These impacts can create conflicts where stakeholders differ over wildlife management and when one party is perceived to exert their interests at the expense of the other. Finding effective methods to mitigate conservation ...
Many predatory species cause negative impacts on human interests by threatening game, livestock or human safety. These impacts can create conflicts where stakeholders differ over wildlife management and when one party is perceived to exert their interests at the expense of the other. Finding effective methods to mitigate conservation conflicts requires an interdisciplinary perspective that investigates (i) the reality of the apparent impacts, (ii) the efficacy of any methods intended to remedy them and (iii) the perceptions, motivations and objectives of key stakeholders. In this thesis, I investigated a conservation conflict in the U.K. surrounding predators and game management. I did so with specific reference to the common buzzard Buteo buteo, a species that, due to predation of released pheasants Phasianus colchicus, is both subject to illegal persecution and on- going controversy concerning the licenced selective removal of ‘problem individuals’. I first review the literature to assess the ecological evidence that certain ‘problem individuals’ can be both disproportionately responsible in impacts upon human interests and more likely to reoffend. I show that while there is evidence for these animals across many different taxa, the benefits of their removal can sometimes be short-lived. I highlight possible indirect impacts of selective management and identify it as a potential compromise between different stakeholder groups. Next, I evaluate the performance of Bayesian stable isotope mixing models (BSIMMs) in quantifying the diets of wild animals. By comparing indirect and direct observations of buzzard foraging, I demonstrate that, with the correct selection of trophic discrimination factors, stable isotope analyses can provide a reliable picture of dietary composition that mirrors direct observations. I then apply these mixing models to evaluate the ecological basis of selective removal of ‘problem buzzards’. The results suggest that the consumption by buzzards of released pheasants is not limited to release pens where gamekeepers perceive buzzard predation to be a problem. However, I then show that stable isotope analysis of blood sampled from two of the four buzzards caught inside pens indicates frequent consumption of released pheasants, relative to the rest of the buzzard population. These results suggest that, while some pheasant consumption may go undetected, selecting only buzzards inside pens for removal is likely to target ‘problem birds’. I then investigate buzzard foraging and breeding ecology on land managed for pheasant shooting. I find that buzzards nest at higher density in areas with greater abundances of pheasants and rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus. However, records of provisioning from nest cameras showed that only rabbits were caught in proportion to their abundance and only rabbit provisioning rate was associated with buzzard productivity. I suggest that the positive relationship between buzzard and pheasant abundance, although seemingly unconnected to pheasant predation, might influence how gamekeepers perceive buzzard impact. Next, I conduct semi-structured interviews on the subject of predator control with 20 gamekeepers across the south of England, to explore the underlying beliefs, norms and information sources that motivate their behaviour. From these interviews, I identify a number of separate, but interconnected, motivations that influence predator control including professional norms, potential penalties, and interpretations of what is ‘natural’. The influences of these motivations are discussed in detail and a conceptual model, incorporating the theory of planned behaviour, is developed. Finally, the key contributions of this thesis are drawn together and discussed in their wider context. Taken together, the results of this thesis illustrate how predator management occurs simultaneously within social and ecological contexts that incorporate the individual attributes of both predators and people. The results of this thesis have direct implications for the management of predators, the representation of stakeholder perspectives and the design of conflict mitigation measures.
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