With limited monetary resources available for nature conservation, policy-makers need to be able to prioritize conservation objectives. This has traditionally been done using qualitative ecological criteria. However, since declines in species and habitats are largely the result of socio-economic and political forces, human preferences and values should also be taken into account. An environmental economics technique, contingent valuation, provides one way of doing this by quantifying public willingness-to-pay towards specific conservation objectives.
In this paper, the use of this approach for quantifying public preferences towards the UK Biodiversity Action Plans for four different British mammal species is considered. The species included are the Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris, the Brown Hare Lepus europaeus, the Otter Lutra lutra and the Water Vole Arvicola terrestris. Willingness-to-pay for conservation was increased by the inclusion of the Otter among the species, membership of an environmental organization and awareness of the general and species-specific threats facing British mammals. It was reduced by the presence of the Brown Hare among the species being considered.
These findings for British mammals are compared with other willingness-to-pay studies for mammal conservation worldwide. Willingness-to-pay tends to be greater for marine mammals than terrestrial ones, and recreational users of species (tourists or hunters) are generally more willing than residents to pay towards species conservation. The choice of technique for eliciting willingness-to-pay from respondents is also shown to be highly significant.
Willingness-to-pay values for British mammals derived from contingent valuation are sensitive to the species included rather than merely symbolic. This indicates that, with care, such measures can be used as a reliable means of quantifying public preferences for conservation, and therefore contributing to the decision-making process. However, irrespective of the internal consistency of contingent valuation, the validity of the approach, especially for use in nature conservation, is disputed. Willingness-to-pay is likely to reflect many interrelated factors such as ethical and moral values, knowledge and tradition, and monetary values may not be an adequate representation of these broader considerations. Willingness-to-pay approaches should therefore be used in addition to, rather than in place of, expert judgements and more deliberative approaches towards policy decision-making for conservation.