Awareness |
Public Participation
Consulting populations and civic involvement in the conservation of nature and steppe birds
In order to promote the conservation of the Great Bustard, Little Bustard and Lesser Kestrel on their main areas of occurrence in Portugal, project LIFE Estepárias as a set of activities dedicated to the consultation of the different players and communities in these areas. The project aims not only to involve farmers, land owners and game managers in the conservation of these three species, but also, and because the conservation of species must rely on the participation of local communities, know the values, attitudes, opinions and preferences of the set of residents of these areas. These activities are developed in an action (D.1) coordinated by the CIS of the University Institute of Lisbon (ISCTE-IUL). The action adopted the objectives of a public consultation, which consist of gathering information that can be used by potential decision makers, in order to improve the decisions to be made and their results, as well as increase the confidence and the transparency of the processes, fomenting mutual learning.

The consultation was meant for understanding what the communities thought about: (a) the conservation of nature and the protection of steppe birds, (b) its role in the protection of the species and (c) ways of civic involvement in these matters and the obstacles to this involvement in Natura 2000 areas. From the methodological point of view, the consultation included interviews, meetings, a survey and a representative sample.

Methodology I – Interviews and meetings

During the second semester of 2009, we conducted 38 interviews to residents, around one-third in each of the SPAs. The respondents had very diverse activities, in order to grant a rich variety of opinions. Some were involved in activities with direct impact on birds (agriculture 37%; Game 21%), others worked for the local government (8%), and others occupied key positions for the dissemination of ideas regarding natural resources management and species conservation (local development associations 10%; schools 8%). We also conducted interviews with some residents with no interest invested in the management of natural resources (16%), to examine the way these issues are debated in the community by indirect players in these matters.

Participants were between the ages of 27 and 70, with an average age of 47 (standard deviation of 11 years). The age average is equivalent for the three SPAs. The vast majority of the participants were men (95%). In what concerns the education level, 40% of the participants completed between 4 and 9 years of school education, while 60% have an education level between the 12th Grade and a Masters Degree. These percentages are equivalent for the three SPAs. We also registered that 45% of the respondents were land owners in the area, this percentage was similar for the three SPAs.

We also conducted three group meetings, one in each SPA, and these meetings counted with 5 to 6 participants. The conduction of group meetings as complement to the conduction of interviews had the objective of accessing to the opinions of the residents in a situation closer to a context of conversation.

The information collected through these methodologies contributed for the construction of a questionnaire that was applied in a Survey answered by a representative sample of the populations residing in the parishes comprehended in the area of action of the project.

Methodology II – Survey

The survey was conducted during the first quarter of 2010 to a total of 600 residents, over 18 years old, in the project's intervention areas: (1) Castro Verde SPA and Piçarras SPA, (2) Vale do Guadiana SPA and (3) Mourão/Moura/Barrancos SPA. The data was collected through the CATI system (Computer Assisted Telephonic Interviewing) and for the selection of the homes we used the RDD (random digit dialling) technique, this is, the random selection of phone numbers for each parish. The sampling method employed was representativeness by quota, based on the proportions found on the INE (Census 2001) for the categories Gender, Age and Professional status per parish. The final sample is composed of 225 respondents from area 1 (38%), 152 from area 2 (25%) and 223 from area 3 (37%).

In what regards the description of the respondents, in the Vale do Guadiana area the sample is composed by a majority of women (63%), while in the other two areas the percentage of men and women is equivalent. The age average for the total of the sample is around 49 years of age (standard deviation of 18 years). As for the professional situation, around half of the participants is active. The three areas are very similar in what concerns the distribution of participants by age and professional situation.

In terms of level of education, around one-third of the respondents in this survey have a complete primary education, another third completed between 5 and 9 years of primary education and the last third has between the 10th grade and an academic degree. The three areas are close to this education standard. The time of residence in the area is in average 35 years and is similar for all three areas. The percentage of land owners, around 30% of the sample, is also equivalent for the three areas.

Some results

In a general manner, the results point towards the following conclusions:
(1) The conservation of nature and biodiversity are understood as being globally positive. The communities do not directly refute the existence of protection areas of the Natura network on the areas where they live and globally identify themselves with the protection areas purpose. The main advantage they identify is that these measures allow the protection of local species.
(2) In what concerns the protection of steppe birds, we can conclude that there is a great familiarity with these birds that seems to result mostly from the contact with farming areas (owners and farmers) and with biodiversity conservation laws. The reasons considered to be more relevant for the protection of steppe birds are the fact that they are native of the area in question and important for natural balance. In what concerns the suggested protection practices, the ones that received more support were the signalling of EDP power lines and the public defence of protection for these birds.

(3) Civic involvement and personal commitment in these matters are still not very expressive, even though populations show interest in having more access to information. Some local groups consider that the laws that regulate the conservation of biodiversity are not very flexible and they would like that there was more opening to negotiation and participation in the decisions regarding the protected areas and the conservation of nature on a local level.