European Journal of Wildlife Research

, Volume 62, Issue 1, pp 93–101 | Cite as

Investigating determinants of compliance with wildlife protection laws: bird persecution in Portugal

  • Alison FairbrassEmail author
  • Ana Nuno
  • Nils Bunnefeld
  • EJ Milner-Gulland
Original Article


Conservation interventions are generally underpinned by formal rules. These rules often suffer from high rates of non-compliance which is difficult to investigate due to its clandestine nature. Here we apply socio-psychological approaches to investigate the prevalence and determinants of three illegal bird-threatening behaviours—shooting raptors, trapping passerines for consumption, and poison use—by surveying 146 respondents in Portugal. We apply the theory of planned behaviour to understand behavioural determinants, and an indirect questioning method, the unmatched count technique (UCT), to estimate behaviour prevalence. The UCT estimated a high prevalence of trapping for consumption (47 % SE 15) and shooting raptors (14 % SE 11); both estimates being higher than from direct questioning. Poisoning had a lower prevalence according to direct questioning (7 %), while the UCT generated a negative estimate suggesting that poisoning is a particularly sensitive behaviour. Different demographic groups were associated with different behaviours and determinants; men with greater rule knowledge were more likely to trap birds, while locally born people were less likely to approve themselves, or to think others approved of, trapping. Those with more positive attitudes to poisoning were more likely to admit to it, and these positive attitudes were found more in older non-hunters. Rule knowledge was better in younger male hunters. These findings suggest that NGOs aiming to reduce poisoning could enlist the support of hunters, while locally born people may be more receptive than others to working with NGOs to reduce trapping. These groups may be powerful allies in reducing illegal behaviours in their communities.


Avian Attitudes Rule knowledge Subjective norms Theory of planned behaviour (TPB) Unmatched count technique (UCT) 



We thank the Centro de Convergência, research assistants and respondents for supporting the study. AF was supported by Imperial College London. AN was supported by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT; doctoral grant SFRH/BD/43186/2008). NB acknowledges the financial support of the European Commission under the HUNT project of the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development. This paper is a contribution to Imperial College’s Grand Challenges in Ecosystems and the Environment initiative.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethics approval

This study complies with the current laws of the countries in which it was performed.

Research was conducted according to the Imperial College London research ethics policy.

Supplementary material

10344_2015_977_MOESM1_ESM.docx (964 kb)
ESM 1 The Electronic Supplementary Material contains Portuguese and English versions of the study questionnaire, UCT protocol and example set of UCT cards, list of the species included in the knowledge quiz and their protection status, and a summary of the predictor variables used in the multivariate analysis and details of all models considered. (DOCX 964 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alison Fairbrass
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ana Nuno
    • 1
    • 2
  • Nils Bunnefeld
    • 1
    • 3
  • EJ Milner-Gulland
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Life SciencesImperial College LondonAscotUK
  2. 2.Centre for Ecology and Conservation, College of Life and Environmental SciencesUniversity of Exeter Cornwall CampusPenrynUK
  3. 3.Biological and Environmental Sciences, School of Natural SciencesUniversity of StirlingStirlingUK
  4. 4.Department of ZoologyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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