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Conservation in Cities. What Motivates Participation?
ZEALANDIA Ecosanctuary

Conservation in Cities. What Motivates Participation?

By Christopher Woolley

The survival and success of native animals in urban environments contributes not only to species conservation but also provides human residents with valuable nature experiences. However, cities can be challenging places to live for many native species. To help combat these challenges, a growing number of urban residents are engaging in backyard conservation by providing habitat for native species and removing threats to their survival.

Research into what makes people want to take part in different nature-based activities improves our ability to design projects that will engage large numbers of participants from diverse backgrounds. This is important to ensure that projects benefit from sufficient engagement to make them effective, as well as ensuring that projects are generally accessible and appealing. Research from Zealandia's Centre for People and Nature published in the journal People and Nature, examined how different backyard conservation activities appeal to different sorts of people in Aotearoa New Zealand, and what motivates participation.

What did they do?

Using a questionnaire survey, the authors recorded people’s interest in engaging in three different backyard conservation activities: native biodiversity monitoring, pest mammal monitoring, and pest mammal trapping. They also recorded what motivates engagement in conservation generally, what acts as barriers to their participation, as well as several sociodemographic characteristics.

What did they find?

The study found that across all of the activities, people were more interested in participating in backyard conservation if they had a strong connection to nature, and if they frequently spent time in nature. This pattern was weaker, however, for pest mammal trapping than it was for the two activities involving monitoring animals, indicating that something in addition to environmental concern might be motivating participation in trapping. These differences might be due to there being a more direct benefit to conservation from trapping (a reduction in pest numbers), than for the monitoring activities which have more indirect outcomes (contributing information through citizen science). Furthermore, trapping likely offers multiple benefits for those who engage in it, benefiting both species conservation and people through the removal of a domestic pest. These findings suggest that conservation activities that offer co-benefits to those who perform them may appeal to a broader range of people, including those who do not have a strong connection to nature.

Additionally, the study identified a number of barriers to participation in the three activities. Lack of knowledge and time, and low motivation were perceived as barriers to participation for each of the conservation activities, while concern for the safety of children and pets was reported as a barrier more frequently for pest trapping than pest monitoring. Animal welfare, cost and having to deal with dead animals were also listed as barriers for some respondents. These barriers suggest that when encouraging the public to engage in conservation, the ways in which you communicate the objectives and outcomes of the activity will be important for encouraging participation.

 This study contributes to our understanding of why some activities appeal to different people across the sociodemographic spectrum and how we might improve the design of citizen science and participatory conservation projects to maximise participant recruitment.

The study was undertaken by Christopher Woolley and Danielle Shanahan from the Zealandia Centre for People and Nature, and Nicola Nelson and Stephen Hartley from the Centre for Biodiversity and Restoration Ecology at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington with funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Endeavour Fund. It is freely available here: https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10243


Image Credit: Tim Park - Predator Free Mt Vic

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