Rewilding—The farmers’ perspective. Perceptions and attitudinal support for rewilding among the English farming community

Mikołajczak, Katarzyna M., Jones, Nikoleta, Sandom, Christopher J., Wynne‐Jones, Sophie, Beardsall, Antonia, Burgelman, Suzanna, Ellam, Lucy and Wheeler, Helen C. (2022) Rewilding—The farmers’ perspective. Perceptions and attitudinal support for rewilding among the English farming community. People and Nature. ISSN 2575-8314

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10376

Abstract

Rewilding is an increasingly common conservation approach, aiming to restore ecosystem processes and minimise human intervention. Rewilding has the potential to profoundly change landscapes and people–nature relations. These issues prompt an ongoing debate about how and if rewilding should be done. Farmers are key stakeholders in this debate; they stand to be both affected by and influence the trajectory of rewilding initiatives developing in the United Kingdom and globally. Despite this, a comprehensive understanding of farmers' perceptions towards rewilding is lacking. Here, we focus on how members of the farming community in England perceive common rewilding scenarios (beaver release, farm-level rewilding and landscape-scale rewilding), and how these perceptions shape farmers' attitudinal support for rewilding practices. Using thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews with 36 farmers and farming representatives, we show that the diversity of famers' attitudes can be understood through the prism of perceptions on five core issues: (a) the perceived need for restoration action, (b) the ecological effectiveness of rewilding, (c) rewilding's compatibility with ensuring food security, (d) rewilding's compatibility with rural lifestyles, livelihoods and economies and (e) multidimensional justice of rewilding initiatives. These issues are rooted in collective farming values, and farmers' perceptions of these issues are influenced by mental models, perceived social impacts and perceived ecological outcomes of rewilding initiatives. Diverse perceptions result in a range of attitudes, from enthusiastic support to strong opposition to different rewilding practices. We argue that the scope to increase support for rewilding varies depending on the type of underlying negative perceptions. Where the negative perceptions are based on objectively verifiable causal beliefs (mental models), opponents' minds may be changed through the provision of positive experiences, social learning, and adhering to good governance principles. However, where negative perceptions are based on values, for example, a preference for traditional rural landscapes, they are unlikely to change easily. Pursuing rewilding ambitions that clash with the values of local farmers may risk social conflicts, but accommodating these values too much may compromise rewilding's own goals. Rewilding initiatives will need dialogue and social engagement to navigate their path around this tension.

Item Type: Journal Article
Keywords: attitudinal support, ecological effectiveness, farmers, mental models, perceptions, rewilding, social impacts, values
Faculty: Faculty of Science & Engineering
Depositing User: Ian Walker
Date Deposited: 26 Aug 2022 09:46
Last Modified: 26 Aug 2022 09:46
URI: https://arro.anglia.ac.uk/id/eprint/707868

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