Learning from observational data to improve protected area management

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Geosciences

Abstract

Human-caused environmental destruction is a major challenge to the sustainability of life on earth. For effective solutions, we need to learn about damaging behaviours and discover how best to encourage change. Exciting developments in fields concerned with human behaviour (such as economics and psychology) are helping to explain why people make the decisions they do. In parallel, ecologists have developed sophisticated methods for analysing data collected by ordinary people ("citizen scientists"), aided by new technologies such as smart phones. Up to now, these developments have remained separate, but closer integration would benefit both science and practice. Behavioural scientists would gain from the adoption of powerful new analytical techniques from ecology, which enable them to use data collected in new ways to understand how humans interact with the environment. Ecologists would benefit from being able to include a solid theoretical model of human behaviour into their understanding of how ecological outcomes arise from human actions. Managers and policy-makers will benefit from evidence-based understanding of how to change behaviour in the real world.

To illustrate how powerful this combination of approaches can be, we will apply them to a key problem facing global conservation: how to manage protected areas so that they can act as effective refuges for endangered species in the face of illegal poaching and other threats. Learning about illegal behaviour is difficult because those involved are rarely willing to talk openly, so the 'conservation detective' must make deductions from other sources of information. Many conservation organisations now collect reports made by the rangers who patrol parks. This is potentially very informative, but also potentially very misleading. Consider snaring as an example: a ranger seeing a snare is the outcome of several interacting processes (where the poacher decides to lay their snare, where the ranger decides to patrol, and whether the ranger spots it in the undergrowth), and removing that snare may affect the future decisions of the poacher; so the data are the product of a game of cat-and-mouse played out in a dynamic landscape. This makes patrol data very hard to interpret.

To tackle this issue we will build two types of computer model to explore how rangers and poachers interact with one another and their environment: i) conceptual models of the underlying processes that lead to the observation of a snare, based on ecological and behavioural theory and our understanding of our system, with simulated patrol records as their outcome; ii) statistical models that start with the snare data, and see which combination of factors best explains it. Building both models means that each can be used to inform the other. We will test the models in two ways; firstly in an abstract system, where we can vary the behaviour of the patrollers and poachers and the environment in which they interact, and see how this affects the resultant patterns of snare observations, and secondly in a real-world system, the Seima Protection Forest in Cambodia. Here we have substantial existing knowledge to help us to build our models, and will collect new information to improve our understanding. Our work will also be able directly to inform their conservation strategy.

For the first time it will be possible to paint an accurate picture of illegal behaviour within parks and to give managers scientific advice about how to design their patrols. We will also explore how this novel approach can be used more widely to tackle other environmental issues. For example, large numbers of people participate in bird surveys each year, and local communities are increasingly collecting information so that they can manage their own resources; our work will lead to rules of thumb for how best to analyse these types of data. This could be useful to a wide range of ecologists and practical users of observational data.

Planned Impact

The problem of improving enforcement in and around PAs currently has a very high profile (e.g. the issue of poaching was raised on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly as a "threat to the rule of law" during their 63rd annual meeting) and there is an increasingly strong desire to improve the evidence-base for conservation actions amongst donors, governments and conservation organisations. This project will produce tangible benefits for multiple user groups at local, national and international scales, including conservation practitioners, governments and international NGOs.

At the local scale, our research will directly benefit the managers of our case study site by providing them with guidance on the interpretation of ranger-based monitoring data and the robust, scientific evidence about the effectiveness of alternative enforcement strategies that they need to manage effectively. WCS Cambodia represents a key local user group for our research outputs, and has been closely involved in the development of our research proposal to ensure its relevance and acceptance.

At the national scale, the Cambodian government will benefit from the pragmatic guidelines we will produce which will show how the enforcement of protected area regulations can be optimised in order to achieve conservation goals and help to determine how the limited resources available for conservation should be deployed. Our partnership with WCS Cambodia will enable us to build on their excellent relationship with Cambodian government agencies.

The Convention on Biological Diversity recognises that PAs represent a global public good "[constituting] an important stock of natural, cultural and social capital, [and] yielding flows of economically valuable goods and services that benefit society, secure livelihoods, and contribute to the achievement of Millennium Development Goals" (www.cbd.int). The crucial contribution of PAs to quality of life throughout the world depends on them being effectively managed. At the international scale, our research will draw out general lessons for successful PA management. Even in the absence of rigorous understanding, patrol datasets are already used to make decisions about park management in many areas of the world, so the practical guidance that we produce can deliver immediate benefits.

The broad partnership contributing to the SMART programme demonstrates a clear commitment of the conservation community to adopting a more rigorous, scientific approach to enforcement. MIST has been implemented in countries across the globe and SMART is already being implemented in 120 protected areas (e.g. http://www.smartconservationsoftware.org/pilot), including Seima Protection Forest. By collaborating with the SMART consortium in development of our research, the outputs of this study will have unusually high potential to contribute directly to improvements in conservation practice.

Publications

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Borrion H (2020) The Problem with Crime Problem-Solving: Towards a Second Generation Pop? in The British Journal of Criminology

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De Lange E (2019) Improving Environmental Interventions by Understanding Information Flows in Trends in Ecology & Evolution

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Dobson A (2019) Integrating models of human behaviour between the individual and population levels to inform conservation interventions in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

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Dobson A (2020) Making Messy Data Work for Conservation in One Earth

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Dobson ADM (2019) Detecting deterrence from patrol data. in Conservation biology : the journal of the Society for Conservation Biology

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Ibbett H (2020) Conservation publications and their provisions to protect research participants. in Conservation biology : the journal of the Society for Conservation Biology

 
Description The project set out to develop new conceptual understanding and practical tools needed to quantify and improve the effectiveness of ranger patrols as a means of enforcing protected area regulations. Focusing on the case of Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern Cambodia, we collated existing data collected by ranger patrols, collected new experimental data about snare detection and persistence and surveys of hunter behaviour, and analysed agent-based simulation models of poacher and patrol behaviour.

Key findings show:

* Plots of change in catch-per-unit against change in effort can be used as a simple, yet reliable indicator of deterrence under different scenarios of changing external drivers and distribution of patrol effort

* However, catch-per-unit effort indices can be unreliable metrics of true abundance when the number of observations is low, a situation that may be common for patrol data. Their performance varies according to characteristics of hunted species (e.g. extent of aggregation), economic factors (e.g. opportunity costs) and features of patrolling (e.g. effort profile, detection probability).

* Patrols may only detect a small proportion of snares present within tropical forest areas. In KSWS, ~15% of experimentally set snares were detected after 30mins searching. The proportion detected increased slowly with effort, reaching ~30% detection after 90mins searching. This suggests that snare removal alone will rarely be sufficient to prevent unsustainable levels of animal mortality.

* Rangers vary in their skill at finding snares, so when snare removal is a priority (e.g. for the protection of known wildlife hotspots) choosing, training and rewarding the right people is important.

* Within KSWS, patrols are not currently seen as an effective deterrent to hunting by villagers and few hunters report that they have been caught.
Exploitation Route Our findings offer new insights about how patrol data can best be used to inform protected area management, and specific evidence about the effectiveness of patrol strategies in Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia. Our research has created new tools which can be used by conservation planners and protected area managers to understand the success of their patrols in deterring illegal activity. In KSWS, our findings can help protected area managers to choose an appropriate balance of different patrol strategies, between targeted intelligence-led patrols, patrols focussed on finding and removing as many snares as possible, and those following standard routes. This could provide economic and welfare benefits by helping to inform efforts to prevent illegal activity from occurring within Cambodia's protected areas.
Sectors Environment

URL https://edinburghconservationscience.com/2016/01/01/learning-from-observational-data-to-improve-protected-area-management/
 
Description Our findings are helping the managers of Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia, to choose an appropriate balance of different patrol strategies, between targeted intelligence-led patrols, patrols focussed on finding and removing as many snares as possible, and those following standard routes. This could provide economic and welfare benefits by helping to inform efforts to prevent illegal activity from occurring within Cambodia's protected areas, contributing towards SDG15.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Environment
Impact Types Economic

 
Description NERC E3 DTP PhD studentship for Emiel de Lange
Amount £55,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2016 
End 03/2020
 
Title Differenced-CPUE metric for detecting deterrence from patrol data 
Description Our team developed a novel differenced-CPUE metric for detecting deterrence from patrol data. It is intended to be simpler to calculate and apply than current state-of-the art statistical approaches, but less prone to bias than other commonly-used metrics. 
Type Of Material Data analysis technique 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact We are aware of one PhD project and one MSc project which have applied this method to their research. 
 
Description WCS Cambodia 
Organisation Wildlife Conservation Society
Country United States 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We are working closely with WCS to create robust, scientific evidence about the effectiveness of alternative enforcement strategies and detailed site-level guidance on the interpretation of ranger-based monitoring data that can help to guide the management of Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary.
Collaborator Contribution WCS Cambodia has been closely involved in the development of the research, helping to ensure that it can inform practical guidance as well as novel scientific insights. They have provided access to high-quality, georeferenced data on patrol activity, species occupancy, biophysical and socioeconomic covariates of hunter behaviour and livelihoods activities and given invaluable support to the field component of the project. They are also a crucial to realising the potential impact of the research, acting as an immediate user group and supporting the Cambodian government's management of our study site.
Impact This collaboration has supported the project inception workshop in Cambodia and the generation of new, high-quality field data. Co-authored publications and further engagement and dissemination activities are planned for the future.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Andrew Dobson & Colin Beale participation in SMART panel at IWT Evidence to Action meeting (9th Oct, 2018) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This panel discussion drew together experts to discuss how ranger-collected data could be used for predictive patrol planning and formed part of a larger event which aimed to improve the use of evidence in the IWT 2018 London Conference.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.illegalwildlifetrade.net/iwt18event/
 
Description Blog post on tropical fieldwork 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A blog post on the ICCS website which offered an introduction to the practicalities of tropical fieldwork for a general audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.iccs.org.uk/blog/forest-full-fieldwork
 
Description Colin's participation in SMART Predictive Patrol Planning Meeting (New York, May 1-3, 2018) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The workshop discussed ways in which new, sophisticated analytical tools for using SMART patrol data could be brought to a wider audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Field work diaries 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Harriet Ibbett published a series of video diaries documenting her field work in Cambodia, aimed at engaging the general public and postgraduate students in the project and related research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://edinburghconservationscience.com/2017/12/21/harriets-field-diaries/
 
Description Focus groups - Seima communities 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Six focus group discussions were carried out in February 2018 with members of communities living around Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, with each group including 6-8 people. Three of these groups included representatives from Community Management authorities such as Community Patrol Teams, or members of the village council e.g. Village Chief or Deputy village chief while others focused on community members with no special leadership roles. The groups discussed livelihood activities conducted in the forest that provide income or sustenance
to local households and the impact of the Wildlife Sanctuary on local livelihoods, as well as the rules and regulations enforced in the Protected Area. The meetings sparked lively discussion and shaped our plans for the next phase of field data collection and modelling.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Harriet Facebook Live 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Harriet Ibbett discussed the challenges of tropical conservation in a Facebook Live broadcast as part of the Oxford Sparks initiative.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=oxford%20sparks
 
Description Harriet Oxford Sparks 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Harriet Ibbett and Prof EJ Milner Gulland were involved in the production of a video and teaching resources to allow students explore the factors affecting communities and their wildlife when development takes place as part of the Oxford Sparks initiative. The video was played on big screens at various venues around the UK (e.g. Manchester, Bristol and in the break at Wimbledon)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.oxfordsparks.ox.ac.uk/content/conserving-nature
 
Description Harriet, The Conversation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Harriet Ibbett wrote a piece discussing her research into conservation in Cambodia for The Conservation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://theconversation.com/scientists-at-work-bridging-the-divide-between-development-and-conservat...
 
Description Presentations to the SMART User Council meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact EJ Milner-Gulland and Andrew Dobson presented to the SMART User Council, who oversee the development and implementation of SMART. SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) is a piece of open source software developed and supported by eight global conservation agencies and used for protected area management at 147 sites across 31 countries.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://smartconservationtools.org/smart-partnership/
 
Description Project page on the Edinburgh Conservation Science website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A dedicated project page was created on the Edinburgh Conservation Science website (the PI, Aidan Keane's research group website). This page will be updated over time and will act as a repository for information about the project and project outputs, as well as providing information to the public and other potential user groups.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
URL https://edinburghconservationscience.com/2016/01/01/learning-from-observational-data-to-improve-prot...
 
Description Project web page on ICCS site 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A web page on the Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science website introducing the project's aims and objectives
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.iccs.org.uk/project/learning-observational-data-improve-protected-area-management
 
Description Workshop for Cambodian conservation NGOs 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact A workshop was held for representatives of NGOs from across Cambodia, with approx 20 people in attendance. The workshop focused on the challenges of using patrol data to inform conservation action.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016