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A counterfactual approach to measure the impact of wet grassland conservation on UK breeding bird populations

Sean Jellesmark; Malcolm Ausden; Tim M. Blackburn; Richard D. Gregory; Mike Hoffmann; Dario Massimino; Piero Visconti


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    "doi": "10.1111/cobi.13692", 
    "version": "Accepted version - Not proofread or final edit", 
    "language": "eng", 
    "title": "A counterfactual approach to measure the impact of wet grassland conservation on UK breeding bird populations", 
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    "keywords": [
      "Counterfactual, impact evaluation, wetland birds, wetland conservation, causal inference, conservation effectiveness"
    ], 
    "publication_date": "2021-01-07", 
    "creators": [
      {
        "orcid": "0000-0002-6523-5092", 
        "affiliation": "Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research, University College London, London, United Kingdom", 
        "name": "Sean Jellesmark"
      }, 
      {
        "affiliation": "RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire SG19 2DL", 
        "name": "Malcolm Ausden"
      }, 
      {
        "affiliation": "Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research, University College London, London, United Kingdom", 
        "name": "Tim M. Blackburn"
      }, 
      {
        "affiliation": "RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire SG19 2DL", 
        "name": "Richard D. Gregory"
      }, 
      {
        "affiliation": "Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, London, United Kingdom", 
        "name": "Mike Hoffmann"
      }, 
      {
        "affiliation": "British Trust for Ornithology, The Nunnery, Thetford, IP24 2PU, United Kingdom", 
        "name": "Dario Massimino"
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      {
        "affiliation": "International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Schlossplatz 1, A-2361 Laxenburg, Austria", 
        "name": "Piero Visconti"
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    "description": "<p>Abstract</p>\n\n<p>Wet grassland wader populations in the United Kingdom have experienced severe declines over<br>\nthe last three decades. To help mitigate these declines, the Royal Society for the Protection of<br>\nBirds (RSPB) has restored and managed lowland wet grassland nature reserves to benefit these<br>\nand other species. However, the impact that these reserves have on bird population trends has<br>\nnot been experimentally evaluated, as appropriate control populations do not readily exist. In<br>\nthis study, we compare population trends from 1994 - 2018 for five bird species of conservation<br>\nconcern that breed on these nature reserves with counterfactual trends using matched breeding<br>\nbird survey observations. Our results showed positive effects of conservation interventions for<br>\nall four wader species that these reserves aim to benefit: Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), Redshank<br>\n(Tringa totanus), Curlew (Numenius arquata) and Snipe (Gallinago gallinago). There was no<br>\npositive effect of conservation interventions on reserves for the passerine, Yellow Wagtail<br>\n(Motacilla flava). We compared reserve trends with three different counterfactuals, based on<br>\ndifferent scenarios of how reserve populations could have developed in the absence of<br>\nconservation, and found that reserve trends performed better regardless of the counterfactual<br>\nused. Our approach using monitoring data to produce valid counterfactual controls is a broadly<br>\napplicable method allowing large-scale evaluation of conservation impact.</p>"
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