An evaluation of strategic conservation planning modelling techniques and analysis of the barriers to their wider adoption and implementation
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It is widely acknowledged that much conservation research does not support conservation practice because it is not implemented. Described as the research – implementation gap, its causes have been debated within the literature since the early development of conservation science. This thesis explored the use of well established strategic conservation planning tools; species distribution modelling using MaxEnt and least cost path modelling within rule based and expert derived landscape permeability models, in order to increase understanding of conservation research implementation barriers and solutions. The tools were evaluated through a microethnographic case study within the applied setting of the Forestry Commission, UK. In addition, the wider validity of the findings was explored through a questionnaire survey to conservation practitioners in seventeen diverse conservation organisations across the UK. Each modelling tool demonstrated potential to provide valuable data to support conservation management decisions for adder Vipera berus conservation in Wyre Forest, Worcestershire, England. However, there were differences in the extent to which each tool could address the research questions and how useful it was perceived by conservation practitioners. As evidenced by this study, practitioners considered landscape permeability modelling to be more useful than species distribution modelling using MaxEnt. The expert derived landscape scoring approach provide more accurate answers to the research questions related to landscape permeability compared to the rule based scoring approach. Forestry Commission staff were keen to adopt the tools and use results within their conservation planning and management. Yet despite staff’s enthusiasm for the tools’ ability to provide scientific justification for management decisions, time constraints prevented the organisation from adopting these tools. However, the results of modelling undertaken within the case study were implemented, and used to determine the locations for adder’s habitat restoration activities. According to the findings of this thesis the research implementation barriers described in the literature can be overcome by appropriate research design. Therefore it suggests that the majority of implementation barriers are not true barriers, but merely the result of developing and undertaking conservation research without the involvement of conservation practitioners. This work concludes that research implementation requires the urgent i adoption of what is already normal practice in other applied sciences: namely partnership with the conservation industry. This would support the development of communication networks, similar to those between applied university research and other industries,, which support ongoing, reciprocal information flow at all stages of research, this enables the building of social capital and thus ensures research implementation.