School of Anthropology & Conservation

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Dr Freya St. John

Lecturer in Conservation Social Science

Illegal behaviours; conservation conflicts; human decision making


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I am a conservation social scientist interested in understanding how human behaviour influences conservation outcomes and how conservation interventions impact wellbeing. Much of my research focuses on conservation conflict together with investigating the prevalence and drivers of peoples’ involvement in unlawful resource extraction. However, gathering robust data on rule-breaking directly from people is challenging. For this reason my work includes testing cutting-edge social science techniques for asking people sensitive questions. I also draw on disciplines such as development studies, social psychology and criminology in order to strengthen our understanding of what drives conservation rule-breaking and the differing levels of tolerance people exhibit for co-existing with wildlife.

My group work on various issues includes the conservation and livelihood implications of activities such as bushmeat hunting, wild collection for the exotic pet trade and cross-sector collaborations in conservation.

Selected publications

  • Duffy, R., F. A. V. St John, B. Büscher, and D. Brockington. 2015. Towards a new understanding of the links between poverty and illegal wildlife hunting. Conservation Biology (early view).
  • St. John, F. A. V., C.-H. Mai, and K. J. C. Pei. 2015. Evaluating deterrents of illegal behaviour in conservation: Carnivore killing in rural Taiwan. Biological Conservation 189:86-94.
  • Nuno, A., and F. A. V. St. John. 2015. How to ask sensitive questions in conservation: A review of specialized questioning techniques. Biological Conservation 189:5-15.
  • St. John, F. A. V., A. M. Keane, J. P. G. Jones, and E. J. Milner-Gulland. 2014. FORUM: Robust study design is as important on the social as it is on the ecological side of applied ecological research. Journal of Applied Ecology 51:1479–1485.
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Also view these in the Kent Academic Repository

A. Hinsley, Nuno, A., Ridout, M., St. John, F., and Roberts, D., "Estimating the extent of CITES noncompliance among traders and end-consumers; Lessons from the global orchid trade", Conservation Letters. Wiley, 2016 [Online]. Available:
F. St. John, Brockington, D., Bunnefeld, N., Duffy, R., Homewood, K., Jones, J., Keane, A., Milner-Gulland, E., Nuno, A., and Razafimanahaka, J., "Research ethics: Assuring anonymity at the individual level may not be sufficient to protect research participants from harm", Biological Conservation, vol. 196. Elsevier Science B.V., Amsterdam., pp. 208-209, 2016 [Online]. Available:
J. Robinson, Griffiths, R., St. John, F., and Roberts, D., "Dynamics of the global trade in live reptiles: Shifting trends in production and consequences for sustainability", Biological Conservation, vol. 184. Elsevier, pp. 42-50, 2015 [Online]. Available:
R. Smith, Biggs, D., St. John, F., 't Sas-Rolfes, M., and Barrington, R., "Elephant conservation and corruption beyond the ivory trade", Conservation Biology, vol. 29. pp. 953-956, 2015 [Online]. Available:
J. Robinson, St. John, F., Griffiths, R., and Roberts, D., "Captive reptile mortality rates in the home and implications for the wildlife trade", PLoS ONE, vol. 10. p. e0141460, 2015 [Online]. Available:
A. Keane, Nuno, A., and St. John, F., "Data collected using the randomised response technique must be analysed using specialised statistical methods", Biological Conservation, vol. 187. Elsevier Science B.V., Amsterdam., pp. 279-280, 2015 [Online]. Available:
R. Duffy, St. John, F., Buscher, B., and Brockington, D., "The militarization of anti-poaching: Undermining long term goals?", Environmental Conservation, vol. 42. Cambridge University Press, pp. 345-348, 2015.
C. Gardner, Gabriel, F., St. John, F., and Davies, Z., "Changing livelihoods and protected area management: a case study of charcoal production in south-west Madagascar", Oryx. Cambridge University Press, 2015 [Online]. Available:
R. Duffy, St. John, F., Buscher, B., and Brockington, D., "Towards a new understanding of the links between poverty and illegal wildlife hunting", Conservation Biology, vol. 30. Wiley, pp. 14-22, 2015 [Online]. Available:
D. Roberts and St. John, F., "Estimating the prevalence of researcher misconduct: a study of UK academics within biological sciences", PeerJ, vol. 2. pp. 1-7, 2014 [Online]. Available:
T. Humle, Duffy, R., Roberts, D., Sandbrook, C., St. John, F., and Smith, R., "Biology's drones: undermined by fear", Science, vol. 344. Amer Assoc, pp. 1351-1351, 2014 [Online]. Available:
A. Nuno and St. John, F., "How to ask sensitive questions in conservation: A review of specialized questioning techniques", Biological Conservation, vol. 189. Elsevier, pp. 5-15, 2014 [Online]. Available:
F. St. John, Keane, A., Jones, J., and Milner-Gulland, E., "Robust study design is as important on the social as it is on the ecological side of applied ecological research", Journal of Applied Ecology, vol. 51. Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 1479-1485, 2014 [Online]. Available:
F. St. John, Mai, C., and Pei, K., "Evaluating deterrents of illegal behaviour in conservation: Carnivore killing in rural Taiwan", Biological Conservation. Elsevier, 2014 [Online]. Available:
Book section
F. St. John, Keane, A., and Milner-Gulland, E., "Effective conservation depends upon understanding human behaviour", in Key Topics in Conservation Biology, vol. 2, D. W. MacDonald and Willis, K. J., Eds. Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.
Showing 15 of 25 total publications in KAR. [See all in KAR]
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Corridor walkI teach on the following modules:


DI528: (Convenor) Conservation Social Science: Methods and Research Design


DI876: (Convenor) Research Methods for Social Science

DI1001: (Convenor) Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Conservation

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Questionnaire packResearch Interests

My research uses cutting-edge social science techniques and theoretical models of human decision-making in order to establish the prevalence and motivators of illegal resource extraction. Case studies include investigating what factors deter carnivore killing in rural Taiwan and predictors of carnivore killing in South Africa.

I am also interested in conservation conflicts and, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, I am studying the ecological and social determinants of human-tiger conflicts in Sumatra, Indonesia. Closer to home, I am researching the conflict over the management of geese numbers on the island of Islay, Scotland.

Current Research Projects


Past Research Projects


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PhD Students

  • Anne-Sophie Pellier: Wildlife hunting in logging concessions and protected areas of West Kalimantan, Indonesia
  • Janine Robinson: Supplying the Exotic Pet Trade: Conservation and Livelihood Implications (co-supervisor)
  • Janna Steadman: Understanding "partnerships for conservation gain": how do government agencies, non-governmental organisations, private landowners and the corporate sector co-operate to deliver effective natural resource management? (co-supervisor)
  • Laura Thomas-Walters: Social marketing and behaviour change for demand reduction in wildlife trade (co-supervisor)

Completed PhD Students

  • Helen Meredith: Improving the Impact of Amphibian Conservation Programmes

Completed Masters by Research Students

  • Anita Wan: Drivers of the demand for the ornamental trade of discus fish (genus Symphysodon) between international markets (co-supervisor)
  • Abigail Wills: Valuing the mangroves of north-east Madagascar: an interdisciplinary perspective (co-supervisor)
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LeopardOther Activities

  • Handling Editor Conservation Biology (2014 to date)
  • Conference talk: International Congress for Conservation Biology, Montpellier, France, 2-6 August 2015. Talk: ‘Tolerating tigers: Understanding human behaviour towards tigers and other wildlife in Sumatra’.
  • Conference talk: International Congress for Conservation Biology, Auckland, New Zealand. 5 – 9th December 2011. Talk: 'Identifying indicators of illegal behaviour: carnivore killing in human-managed landscapes'.
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Last Updated: 07/12/2016