Conversations in conservation: revealing and dealing with language differences in environmental conflicts

Authors


*Correspondence author. E-mail: t.j.webb@sheffield.ac.uk; dr3@york.ac.uk

Summary

  • 1Applied ecology aims to translate research into policy recommendations. However, conflicts frequently develop if these recommendations propose a contentious course of action. A first step towards addressing such conflicts is to attempt to understand the values underpinning stakeholder viewpoints.
  • 2We develop a computer-aided Content Analysis to analyse the language surrounding environmental conflicts for insights into stakeholder values. Using the conflict arising over proposals to cull hedgehogs Erinaceus europaeus on several Scottish islands, we show how different stakeholder groups frame the problem in different ways.
  • 3Stakeholder groups supporting different courses of action (culling vs. translocating hedgehogs) use different arguments, the former emphasizing conservation and biodiversity, the latter focusing on animal welfare. Our method results in a graphical representation of this failure to agree on a common way to frame the issue.
  • 4Including texts obtained from media sources illustrates how the media can exacerbate environmental conflicts through the issues they emphasize and the vocabulary they use.
  • 5Synthesis and applications. Our method provides a simple means to quantify levels of stakeholder disagreement concerning potentially contentious environmental issues. Our results provide a starting point for the development of a quantitative, graphical tool for managers, where repeated analysis will aid in monitoring and managing conflicts. In addition, we provide a clear example of the role of societal attitudes influencing the effective implementation of ecological advice, which should encourage ecologists to become more aware of the social environment into which policy recommendations are to be launched and to ensure that their advice does not ignore important stakeholder values.

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