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The Warden Attitude: An Investigation of the Value of Interaction with Everyday Wildlife


Using a discrete choice experiment, we elicit valuations of engagement with ‘everyday wildlife’ through feeding garden birds. We find that bird-feeding is primarily but not exclusively motivated by the direct consumption value of interaction with wildlife. The implicit valuations given to different species suggest that people prefer birds that have aesthetic appeal and that evoke human feelings of protectiveness. These findings suggest that people derive wellbeing by adopting a warden-like role towards ‘their’ wildlife. We test for external validity by conducting a hedonic analysis of sales of bird food. We discuss some policy implications of the existence of warden attitudes.

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  1. See e.g. Navrud and Mungatana (1994), Loomis and White (1996), White et al. (1997), Kontoleon and Swanson (2003), Christie et al. (2006), Jacobsen et al. (2008) and Morse-Jones et al. (2012). There is a similar trend in conservation and conservation biology (Miller and Hobbs 2002; Dunn et al. 2006) which is not uncontroversial (Gaston and Fuller 2008). One exception to this is Clucas et al. (2015), who assess the total economic value of two common songbird species in Berlin and Seattle. They use the contingent valuation method to elicit the willingness-to-pay of survey participants to increase the population of two common songbirds by an unspecified amount, and combine this with self-reported expenditure on bird food. Another exception is Farmer et al. (2011), who use a hedonic study of house prices to estimate the value of an increase in a local bird diversity index.

  2. As given to participants in printed form when making their choices. The full instructions used to introduce participants to the choice experiment are available as supplementary material.

  3. The electronic version of this paper shows all figures in their original colours.

  4. The latter can be justified by looking at the results for tits which is the only species for which no, one or multiple individuals could be observed in the choice set. In Table 5, Regression (2) the coefficient to observe multiple rather than one tit is 1.161. Dividing this by 2.5 yields 0.464 which is very close to the coefficient of tit_single (0.458) and well within its 95 %-confidence interval [0.309; 0.607].

  5. This refers to their willingness to substitute one bird species for another. Results (p values) of chi squared tests: robin_single versus bullfinch_single 0.31, robin_single versus tit_single 0.004, bullfinch versus tit_single 0.092, tit_multiple versus blackbird_multiple 0.001, tit_multiple versus sparrow_multiple 0.000. woodpigeon_single is significantly negative while all other species coefficients are significantly positive in Regression (2).

  6. Note that in regression (2) the difference in the coefficients is not significant.

  7. Results (not presented) for the subsample focusing on participants that never feed birds (\(\hbox {N} = 39\)) look very similar to those in Regression (3).

  8. For the first two samples the differences between motives is significant at the 0.1 %-level for all pairwise comparisons. For experienced and benefactor participants only the two highest ranked reasons are not significantly different from each other. The differences between samples are highly significant as well, with the following exceptions: the score for ‘enjoyment from looking at them’ for the two experienced samples is not different, as would be expected, and the scores for the food waste motive are not different across samples.


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We would like to thank the editors, two anonymous referees, Nick Hanley and Alistair Munro for helpful comments and suggestions. We are grateful to James Parrish of Parrish Farms for providing the data on bird food sales and to Steve Boon and the staff of Notcutts Norwich for their support and the permission to conduct the choice experiment on their premises. This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council through a studentship for Michael Brock.

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Correspondence to Grischa Perino.

Electronic supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (pdf 937 KB)


Appendix 1

See Table 9.

Table 9 Rankings of the RPSB Big Garden Bird Watch (BGBW) Survey 2012

Appendix 2: Survey Instructions Key

You will need to use this to understand the cases you are presented with


Cases will indicate the type and frequency of species that may come to your garden. Frequency estimations are described in the table below:

Rating Description
  This species will not come to your garden
figure a
Expect 1 bird of this species to come to your garden
figure b
Expect an average of between 2 and 5 birds of this species to come to your garden

This is the frequency estimation for each time the food is dispensed. The average person would expect to obtain 20 feeding opportunities from each bag.


If instead of being shown in full colour, a bird is shown faded, this will mean these birds will feed in your garden from the food you have dispensed, but you will not see them. An example illustrates this below. Here, whilst 2–5 of these birds will feed in your garden, you will only actually see one of them.

figure c

Here are the six different species that may be seen as a consequence of dispensing bird food. The species appear below in their natural plumage (colouring) and will always appear in the same position on a choice card if present.

figure d


Each option has a

figure e

rating. These act like ‘Hotel ratings’, ranging from one-star to three-star categories. A one-star option will provide basic nourishment, and options with more stars will provide a greater level of nutrition to each bird which is fed.

Price and Donations

The price of an option represents the amount you would have to pay to obtain that seed bag[Please remember no actual purchases will be made as part of this survey].

In some cases, this price includes a donation. This donation contributes toward habitat restoration which aims to raise the population of the Bittern in East Anglia.

The Bittern is a very rare and elusive species, and over two thirds of its remaining UK population live among East Anglian reedbeds currently. If a donation is being made, this will be clearly indicated on the choice case.

figure f

Appendix 3: Bird Quiz Sheet

Possible bird names Letter
Grey heron  
Lesser-spotted woodpecker  
Blue tit  
Song thrush  
Collared dove  
Tree sparrow  
House sparrow  
Great tit  

Appendix 4: Template of Respondent Survey

figure g
figure h

This is the end of the survey! Thanks again for your participation; both your responses and time have been invaluable and essential to the research.

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Brock, M., Perino, G. & Sugden, R. The Warden Attitude: An Investigation of the Value of Interaction with Everyday Wildlife. Environ Resource Econ 67, 127–155 (2017).

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  • Use value
  • Everyday wildlife
  • Discrete choice experiment
  • Nature connectivity
  • Warden attitude
  • Garden birds
  • Hedonic

JEL Classification

  • Q26
  • Q57
  • H41