Wednesday, 28 January 2015

A Response to Questions

I promised Alan Tilmouth a more substantive reply to the questions he posed before Christmas in response to the opening Blog post.  I then got laid low by a plague that has kept me out of the picture through January. However, signs of life are returning, and with apologies for the delay, I am now pleased to provide more detail in response to the questions he posed.

Q1. Who will make up the Steering Group and what are their qualifications and experience of interpreting scientific papers? 1.  I have published details of the Steering and Research Groups on the Project’s webpage on the Moorland Forum website. There is no shortage of scientific clout within these groups.

Q2. You state "People with an interest in the impact of predation on wading and wild game birds will be encouraged to provide their views and comments throughout the project". Does 'people' include interested individuals only within Scotland, only from members of forum membership organisations or the wider general public? 2.  As I mentioned in the initial response, I will be happy to receive comments from anyone by any means. The initial workshops are being set up with the member organisations of Scotland’s Moorland Forum as a means of achieving cross-sector input. An addition is SongBird Survival, as this organisation responded to the Questionnaire that was circulated last year. The three Project Review Seminars that will be held in October and/or November this year will be open to all, and I will circulate details on this Blog, in due course.

Q3. You write "The reported decline of wading birds is a cause of great concern, and this project will provide a better and shared understanding of the role that predation has had in this decline." This seems to suggest that you have pre-determined that predation has played a role in the decline, is this the case?
3.  The project will consider all the available data in an objective manner – there is no presumption about the impact of any particular issue and the report from the project will be based on evidence. The information to be considered will include published data, unpublished (grey) literature and the local knowledge collected during the workshops. To consider the status of wading bird populations, predation must be considered as a potential factor, but this will be considered alongside all other potential factors.

Q4. When you talk about "investigating the often-controversial disparity between scientific knowledge and local knowledge arising from the direct observations of local people on the ground." How do you propose to weight these in terms of how they influence the study? How will the study recognise the depth and value of scientific research vs anecdotal observation?4.  The weighting of scientific evidence against local knowledge was identified as an issue in the Project Proposal, which has now been adopted as the Project Plan. The best way to answer the concerns that have been raised is to quote from paragraphs 1.4 & 1.5 of this Project Proposal. These quotes address the benefits of including local stakeholder input and then the way that the project will deal with the different information:

“…decision-making processes based only on scientific knowledge (regardless of the quality of such research) may be rejected by local stakeholders, if regarded as ignorant of local conditions”.

“Despite the widespread acceptance of multi-stakeholder knowledge bases, concerns may be expressed from scientists and government organisations regarding the integration of local knowledge in the management of natural resources (Wynne, 1992; Innes and Booher, 2010). These may be linked to issues of power-sharing between state and non-state actors (Taylor et al., 2012) or to the perception that local knowledge may be “insufficiently objective and insufficiently rigorous in terms of methods and documentation” (Failing et al., 2007), thereby somehow lacking in scientific merit (Close & Hall, 2006). This project will therefore integrate local ecological knowledge using peer-reviewed methodologies recognised as robust for the inclusion of local ecological knowledge.”

I hope that addressing these questions in more detail will answer Alan Tilmouth’s concerns but also be helpful for others. This is important work and time and effort has gone into developing a process that will address concerns, provide a balanced approach to the issues and hopefully add value to the debate. We cannot expect to answer all the questions but with the open engagement of people who have opinions and/or concerns about the topics we will be addressing, I hope that we can move the debate forward.

More comment, please.

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