Pine martens and Welsh communities
David Bavin, Chester Zoo Conservation Scholar from the University of Exeter, is assessing the impact of the recent Pine Marten Recovery Project we’re supporting in Wales. His research focuses on the perception that local Welsh communities have towards the project.
Working for the Vincent Wildlife Trust and conducting his PhD at the same time, David Bavin has been analysing how the local Welsh communities perceive the Pine Marten Recovery Project using a statistical method called Q method.
Q method was developed in the fields of psychology and social science, and is a form of discourse analysis looking for patterns across people’s viewpoints. What I’m doing is essentially exploring what people think about pine marten translocations and reintroductions in general.
Read more about the Pine Marten Recovery Project on our Act for Wildlife blog here
The project started in 2015, and involved the translocation of Scottish martens to carefully selected sites in mid-Wales. Before being released, all the individual pine martens were acclimatised to their new surroundings using soft release pens that the Chester Zoo team helped to build. Following the martens’ release, all the animals were monitored using radio telemetry to obtain information on their home ranges.
Re-introducing the small carnivore in Wales triggered some strong reactions from local communities as farmers, for example, were concerned it might impact on their livestock or other wildlife.
My aim was to identify where there could be conflicts of interest but also to look at areas of consensus between people that have opposing views so that we could essentially build a conservation strategy to bring people together for sustainable progress.
The Q method involves comprehensively sampling the viewpoints existing in a specific area from interviews with selected participants, and then isolating short statements from these interviews. A statement could be for example: ‘I would love to have pine martens living in the village’.
I isolated 30 statements and then presented them to a wider sampling group. Q does not require a huge sample size as it works best with smaller sample sizes. In this case I used 29 people and presented them with all those statements. They then had to sort them into a forced choice array like a pyramid, which showed us which statements they agreed with, disagreed with or felt ambiguous about.
After collecting all the replies, David ran a factor analysis to identify statistically significant groups of statements which are the viewpoints. At the end of his analysis, he obtained four major viewpoints.
From there I could start looking at what defines those viewpoints, how they differ from each other and find where the consensus was between those different groups. I was basically mapping out what people think and looking at the interrelationships between their views.
One of David’s key findings is that people often translate experience of familiar things onto unfamiliar species. If they don’t know anything about pine martens they tend to think of what they perceive as a similar species and transfer everything they know about that species to the martens.
This is important because if you are dealing with reintroduced species, which have been absent for a long time, then people can create a lot of false mythology around those species based on what they know about other species that they deem comparable. So it’s very important to put out a clear message very early on about what your species is and what it does and does not do.
A key animal often seen by local communities as interchangeable with the pine marten is the badger, which is locally unpopular. That comparison triggered important concerns among the farming communities who immediately started seeing the reintroduction in a negative way.
It made us focus on what makes a pine marten a pine marten using factual information; detaching them from the negative baggage associated with other highly politicised species.
The Q method has potential to be an effective tool for conflict resolution, as it identifies areas of potential conflict early on in the process. It encourages conservationists to sit down and talk to local people, facilitating their inclusion in the process, with genuine recognition of their aspirations and concerns.
I sat down with local people, talked to them and drank a lot of tea with them! Their viewpoints matter to me; they are part of wildlife conservation. The open, honest dialogue led to mutual understanding and respect. I think that’s one of the reasons why we have such a good relationship with locals here.
In the future, I hope this work will inform people’s approach when they come to think about social feasibility.
David Bavin is the Project Officer for the Vincent Wildlife Trust’s Pine Marten Recovery Project. He is also a PhD student at the University of Exeter and is supervised by Dr Jenny Macpherson, Prof Robbie McDonald and Chester Zoo’s Dr Sue Walker.