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Appears in Collections:Biological and Environmental Sciences eTheses
Title: Outdoor recreation and conserving biodiversity: Recreational behaviours and capercaillie conservation management in the Cairngorms National Park
Author(s): Smith, William Robert
Supervisor(s): Mannion, Greg
Bunnefeld, Nils
Satsangi, Madhu
Issue Date: Oct-2022
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: Biodiversity loss is a global issue facing humanity at an accelerated rate with the 2019 IPBES reporting over 1 million species at threat of extinction. Conservation sciences have historically been centred around the natural sciences, ecology and genetics. However, given that the overwhelming majority of biodiversity loss is driven by human activity, conservation science invariably must relate to, and look to understand, human behaviour. Within the United Kingdom, the Cairngorms National Park serves to not only be one of the last truly wild landscapes in the UK with rich biodiversity, but is also one of the last refuges for the British population of capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), a large, charismatic, ground-nesting bird species. Capercaillie have been in severe decline within Scotland since the 1970’s where the population has dropped from over 200,000, to just over 1,100 in 2016, 80% of which can be found in the Spey Valley in the Cairngorms National Park. Ecological research has found that one of the leading causes of capercaillie decline is disturbance from human sources, particularly outdoor recreation and when visitors recreate off marked trails. Existing studies have struggled to disentangle a number of elements involved in the social dimensions of capercaillie conservation, such as the prevalence of damaging behaviours and the key drivers and motivators behind these behaviours. In order to successfully enact a conservation initiative that involves changing people’s behaviours, it is first essential to understand not only how prevalent these behaviours are, but also what influences people to behave as they do. As with much of the wider field of conservation science, there has been little research into the socio-ecological dynamics of capercaillie conservation. Further, little to no research has been carried out into the political and organisational dimensions present between capercaillie conservation managers and landowners, and how these conservation bodies respond, and react, to newly acquired sources of information. By using a rigorous mixed methods approach, including a quantitative survey of 159 park visitors employing randomised response techniques, and a key informant focus group of capercaillie management stakeholders, this thesis provides an original and nuanced understanding into the dynamics surrounding capercaillie conservation within the Cairngorms National Park. The original findings show that the two most prevalent activities were walking off marked trails and letting a dog off the lead. This is a significant contribution suggesting up to 374000 visitors to the national park engage in behaviours likely to be deleterious to capercaillie each year, and potentially causing widespread disturbance to fragile capercaillie populations. Further, this study found that knowledge and awareness of capercaillie conservation issues is relatively low amongst visitors, especially for a flagship species, designated as such to raise awareness for conservation schemes. However, people who were more aware of capercaillie were found to be more likely to venture off marked trails, potentially seeking an interaction with one of the birds, suggesting that increasing awareness alone will likely not improve people’s behaviour. Given this, this thesis provides a number of evidence-based implications. While information and education schemes would be very beneficial for increasing the profile of this rare and charismatic species, any education scheme must be inclusive of sustainable viewing opportunities to reduce the numbers of people seeking wild interactions, and also to provide meaningful and consequential encounters. The way new knowledge and uncertainty is handled by conservation managers was found to be a substantially hindering factor throughout the management process having impacts on several levels, especially on stakeholder engagement and cooperation. However, by involving locals and visitors throughout the management process, and employing expert experiential knowledge, the findings presented in this thesis suggest that the overall impact of this uncertainty may be reduced, allowing for more effective biodiversity conservation initiatives. The implications presented in this thesis have relevance not only to the conservation of capercaillie in Scotland, but to any multi-stakeholder system where the roles, responsibilities, and objectives of stakeholders are complex and diverse. The increased and consistent involvement of these stakeholders throughout the conservation process is essential for biodiversity conservation to succeed.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

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