People, nature and large herbivores in a shared landscape: a mixed-method study of the ecological and social outcomes from agriculture and conservation.
1. In this exploratory study, we employ an interdisciplinary approach to explore potential synergies and trade-offs between the needs of people and nature in the context of agroecological farming and nature conservation. 2. Ecological field studies and management surveys from six sites were combined with a participatory-deliberative appraisal exercise using the Multi-Criteria Mapping (MCM) method. All six study sites and all four land use options in the appraisal were characterised by the use of large herbivores for agricultural and/or conservation purposes, to varying degrees, and were located in South-East England. 3. MCM participants identified habitat and species diversity, soil health, food production, provision of education and recreational access, as the principal benefits associated with successful management of such sites. Taken overall, their appraisals indicated that a combination of land uses may be best suited to delivering these diverse benefits, but with agroecological (While organic and biodynamic agriculture are subject to legal definition, agroecology offers a more flexible approach and can be viewed as 'a development pathway from input-intensive industrial systems through to highly sustainable, ecological systems'-see Laughton, R. (2017) 'A Matter of Scale', Land Workers Alliance and Centre for Agroecology, Coventry University) farming being perceived as a particularly effective multi-purpose option. 4. Five of the six sites were used for recreational purposes, and in total we recorded five times more humans than wild mammals. Ecological data from the sites indicated that the most conservation-oriented sites performed best in terms of species richness and activity (birds, mammals, bats and invertebrates) and number of species of conservation concern. However, beta diversity metrics indicated important variation in the species assemblages recorded within and between sites. Whereas both agroecological farms in our study produced the greatest weight of saleable meat per unit area, the site that produced the most meat also demonstrated consistently strong performance across many biodiversity metrics. 5. Overall, expert perspectives and the performance of our study sites suggests that combinations of diverse approaches to the management of large herbivores, within a 'wildlife-friendly' envelope, are consistent with providing for the diverse needs of people and nature within shared landscapes.