Understanding local knowledge and attitudes toward potential reintroduction of a former British wetland bird.
Stakeholder acceptance and support is essential for long-term success in species reintroductions, and assessing social feasibility of reintroductions within human-occupied landscapes is an integral component of effective decision-making. The Dalmatian pelican Pelecanus crispus is an extirpated British bird, and possible pelican reintroduction to British wetlands is under discussion. Any reintroduction planning must first assess local community awareness, attitudes, and acceptance of potential pelican arrival and associated habitat management, as part of wider socio-ecological feasibility assessment. Pelicans are distinctive species with potential to increase support for wetland conservation, but might provoke conflict through real or perceived competition with landscape users such as fishers; such conflict is already seen within Britain between fishers and cormorants. We conducted an online survey of 590 respondents in the Somerset Levels and East Anglian Fens, Britain's largest wetland landscapes, to understand local views on pelican reintroduction, other reintroductions and wetland restoration, and to investigate correlates of varying attitudes toward coexistence with pelicans and five other waterbirds (grey heron, Eurasian bittern, little egret, common crane, great cormorant). Respondents had generally positive views about previous reintroductions of other species, and had overall positive attitudes toward all six waterbirds. Two-thirds of respondents supported or strongly supported pelican reintroduction, but both benefits and concerns were identified in relation to its possible reintroduction. Anglers and hunters were more likely to hold negative attitudes toward pelicans, other waterbirds and wetland restoration. However, although anglers raised more concerns, they were not more likely to be unsupportive toward reintroduction. More socio-demographic predictors were associated with negative attitudes toward restoration required to establish pelican habitat, suggesting that positive feelings toward biodiversity are outweighed by concerns around potential exclusion from local landscapes. Our findings suggest pelican reintroduction might be supported by local stakeholders. Attitudes toward cormorants do not represent a blueprint for attitudes toward pelicans, and anglers may support reintroduction if concerns around impacts to fish stocks are addressed. Community engagement for species-specific and landscape-scale actions require separate approaches, with landscape management planning needing to target a wider range of stakeholder groups with separate concerns to those about coexistence with pelicans. Read the free Plain Language Summary for this article on the Journal blog.