Dr Freya A. V. St. John
Reader in Conservation Science
Thoday Building, room G1
Tel: 01248 388295 (from UK)
+44 1248 388295 (international)
- Understanding illegal resource use
- Conservation conflicts
- Conservation and human wellbeing
Before undertaking her PhD in understanding illegal resource use, Freya worked as a conservation practitioner, largely in Greece and Tanzania for eight years. This sparked her interest in interdisciplinary research that seeks to understand people and their interactions with the natural world.
Freya is interested in understanding the links between human behaviour, wellbeing and conservation. Much of her research focuses on conservation conflict together with investigating the prevalence and drivers of peoples’ involvement in unlawful resource extraction. However, gathering robust data on rule-breaking directly from people is challenging. For this reason Freya’s work includes testing cutting-edge social science techniques for asking people sensitive questions. She also draws on disciplines such as development studies, social and cognitive psychology and criminology in order to strengthen levels of understanding on what drives conservation rule-breaking and the differing levels of tolerance people exhibit for co-existing with wildlife.
Freya’s group work on various issues including the conservation and livelihood implications of wild meat hunting and the social, heritage and economic value of intertidal collection and beach gathering activities.
Project: Resolving the links between poverty and rule-breaking in conservation
Funder: European Research Council Starting Grant, 2018 - 2023
Researchers: Freya St. John, Corinna Van Cayzeele, Leejiah Dorward, Harriet Ibbett
Poverty is frequently perceived to be the root cause of illegal natural resource use – the hunting or extraction of wildlife not sanctioned by the state. When unsustainable, such activities threaten conservation of ecosystems and endangered species. However, understanding what motivates individuals involved is a major challenge; understandably few are willing to discuss their motives for fear of punishment. Furthermore, severe, multifaceted poverty overlaps with regions prioritised for their globally important biodiversity. This association exacerbates the problem that illegal activities pose for policy-makers responsible for managing and policing the use of nature. The dominant approach to conserving biodiversity is to establish protected areas which typically restrict resource use and manage infractions through law enforcement. However, the designation of such areas does not guarantee compliance, as demonstrated by ongoing infractions and its conspicuous profile on global policy agendas. This includes the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which calls for urgent action to halt biodiversity loss and hunting of protected species. Solving this problematic cocktail of poverty, exclusion from resources and drivers of illegal resource use requires a new approach to understanding why people break rules and to what extent poverty underpins behaviour. This project will draw on concepts from a range of disciplines, including development studies, criminology and psychology, to improve our understanding of why people break rules and to what extent poverty underpins their behaviour.
Project: Investing in agroforestry options for forest restoration in Indonesia
Funder: Darwin Initiative, 2016 – 2019
Researchers: Freya St. John with Mangara Silalahi (Burung Indonesia), Tom Swinfield (RSPB), Rhett Harrison (ICRAF), Aidan Keane (University of Edinburgh)
Collaborators: Burung Indonesia, PT REKI, RSPB, ICRAF, University of Bangor, University of Edinburgh
Project Description: Much of Indonesia’s forest cover has been logged (>80M ha) yet studies have shown that exhausted logging concessions harbour high levels of biodiversity and supply valuable ecosystem services, consequently, their restoration is a conservation priority. 49 million people, among the poorest in the country, live on forest margins. With limited livelihood options, many depend on clearing forests for agriculture with the uncertain hope of attaining land tenure. Harapan Rainforest is an Ecosystem Restoration Concession in Sumatra which has a 90 year license to restore 98,000 ha of logged forest. With many indigenous and migrant families living within the concession and clearing land for agriculture, the situation at Harapan typifies the challenges facing forest restoration in Indonesia. This interdisciplinary project will examine the likely win-win scenario of agroforestry which has the potential to provide valuable livelihood opportunities consistent with restoration and biodiversity objectives.
Project: Marrying community land rights with stakeholder aspirations in Indonesian Borneo
Funder: Darwin Initiative, 2016 – 2019
Researchers: Matthew Struebig (University of Kent) and Freya St. John
Collaborators: Fauna and Flora International Indonesia programme, Indonesian Institute of Sciences, Borneo Futures, University of Queensland
Project Description: Community forest management (CFM) is championed as a way to benefit local livelihoods and forest conservation, and Indonesia recognises this as part of its efforts to reduce poverty. Growing decentralisation and policy reform now supports community-based management throughout Indonesia, where the government aims to reallocate 12.7 Mha of state forest to poor indigenous communities. While these reforms support human rights and could alleviate poverty, counter-intuitively they also allow communities to clear forest. The governments' plan to improve rural wellbeing thus risks compromising the very ecosystems and biodiversity on which its people depend. By producing spatial datasets and developing case-studies within CFM areas this project aims to assess the impact of CFM on wellbeing and build the capacity of local governments of Kalimantan to better incorporate environmental and developmental needs into their spatial land-use planning processes.
Project: Novel approaches to resolving conflicts over human livelihoods and biodiversity conservation: People and rising geese populations in Scotland
Funder: University of Kent Faculty of Social Science, 2016 – 2017
Researchers: Freya St. John with Nils Bunnefeld (University of Stirling)
Project Description: Conflicts between those interested in using versus conserving biodiversity are widely recognised as both damaging to human livelihoods and biodiversity and are increasing in scope and scale. Yet, despite this recognition, there is a lack of theory to help guide the resolution of these problematic issues. The aim of this project is to develop a novel conceptual and analytical model to resolve conflicts over biodiversity conservation and human livelihoods. Working on the island of Islay, this project will investigate issues associated with the management of geese numbers which impose costs on the island’s farmers.
Project: Tolerating tigers: Do local beliefs offset human-carnivore conflicts?
Funder: Leverhulme Trust, 2014 – 2017
Researchers: Freya St. John with Matthew Struebig (University of Kent), Jeanne Mckay (FFI-Indonesia Programme), Matthew Linkie (WCS)
Collaborators: Fauna and Flora International Indonesia Programme; University of Cambridge; Universitas Nasional (UNAS) Jakarta
Project Description: Large carnivores that cause loss of human life or livelihoods are frequently killed in retribution. However, religious or spiritual beliefs may encourage local tolerance of such conflicts. To date, conservation biologists and social scientists have not tested this aspect of human-wildlife conflict within a quantitative and interdisciplinary framework. A long-term case study of Sumatran tigers living close to Islamic farming communities allows us to explore both ecological and social determinants of such conflicts. Taken together, these data will provide timely insights into the drivers of tiger conflict, and allow us to better understand how to strengthen tolerance towards dangerous wildlife.
Harriett Ibbett: Understanding rule-breaking in a conservation context, School of Natural Sciences, Bangor University. Funded by ERC (Grant No. 755965)
Elizabeth Morris-Webb: Intertidal collection and beach gathering, School of Ocean Sciences & School of Natural Sciences, Bangor University. Funded by KESS 2 with www.marine-ecosol.com
Sorrell Jones: The influence of risk on patterns of illegal activity in a hunted landscape in West Liberia. Royal Holloway University of London (Dr Sarah Papworth), Edinburgh University (Dr Aidan Keane), Bangor University (Dr Freya St. John), RSPB (Dr Juliette Vickery)