Conservation in the face of ambivalent public perceptions – the case of peatlands as ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’

A Byg, J Martin-Ortega, K Glenk, P Novo

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34 Citations (Scopus)
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Most conservation efforts today recognise the need to involve the public if conservation is to succeed in the long-term. A common approach has been to try to educate the public on why they should care. However, information campaigns are often not effective in changing opinions, let alone behaviour. In this paper, we try establishing the basis for alternative approaches based on understanding people's motivations, perceptions and relationship with nature. Using focus groups, we look at the case of peatlands in Scotland, as an example of an ecosystem which is currently the focus of many conservation and restoration initiatives while seen as ‘problematic’ in the sense that those advocating its conservation assume that the general public does not care about peatlands. Our results show that perceptions of peatlands are ambivalent and many-facetted, and that they can be understood, metaphorically speaking, as good, bad and ugly at the same time: they can be seen as bleak wastelands; beautiful, wild nature and cultural landscape. The multiple and ambivalent views of ecosystems such as peatlands seem not to stem necessarily from lack of knowledge, but to be linked to biophysical characteristics, history, trade-offs between different uses and differences in personal relationships with nature. To ensure the long-term success of conservation, it is vital to understand and manage the public's different and ambivalent views about and attitudes towards landscapes of a greater or lesser degree of wilderness. Many practitioners have now come to accept and manage the fact that there is uncertainty in relation to the outcomes of the biophysical processes underpinning ecosystem restoration. It is now necessary to acknowledge human ambivalence and to find mechanisms for dealing with it. This should become one of the new pillars of conservation practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181 - 189
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Conservation
Early online date9 Jan 2017
Publication statusFirst published - 9 Jan 2017

Bibliographical note



  • Cultural landscapes
  • Nature perceptions
  • Restoration
  • Trade-offs
  • Wilderness


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