Conservation in conversation: people's perspectives on a woodland with high conservation value - a qualitative study.

Published online
24 Nov 2022
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
People and Nature

Hague, A. & Fischer, A. & Byg, A. & Juarez-Bourke, A. & Herrett, S. & Eastwood, A.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
Scotland & UK


Concepts such as ecosystem services and nature's contributions to people are frameworks for articulating the value of nature and biodiversity conservation. Yet it remains difficult to argue for the conservation of species and habitats where they are inconspicuous or 'non-charismatic'. This paper investigates the perceptions of a woodland area in rural western Scotland, designated for its high conservation value and characterised by habitats, rare species and species assemblages with limited appreciation by non-experts and no obvious 'utility' value. Based on interviews with residents and visitors as well as workshops with participants representing different types of local expertise, we show how people experience and perceive the benefits from such woodlands. Overall, our study participants emphasised values and ecosystem services that benefitted humans, strongly drawing on stories of cultural or historical land use to argue for more material opportunities to be created. For those participants without ecological expertise, the designated conservation value, albeit respected and accepted, remained vague and bland. Participants also articulated a strong underlying development logic, pushing in some way for 'more' to be made from the woodlands so that more people could receive benefits from the woodland either directly (e.g. mental restoration; increased use for recreation) or indirectly (e.g. through creating jobs in the local tourism industry). Our findings suggest that managing for conservation alone might cause challenges in acceptability, especially where the species and habitats conserved are of little obvious value to the non-specialist. At the same time, participants recognised that they valued the woodland being unique in some way, and that increasing the material use of the woods might harm the very essence of what made it special.

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