Nature in Conflict: Lessons from conflicts about conservation management by hunting and tree cutting

Published on
July 23, 2020

Using hunting as a way of nature management and clearing forests in order to transform these into other types of nature signify two forms of conservation management that spark strong reactions in society at large. Reactions can evolve into conflicts: situations whereby interests, values and truths are irreconcilable. The recent study ‘Nature in Conflict’ describes ways to gain insight in how conflicts in the Netherlands, about conservation management, can crop up and develop. From this, clarifications can be given on conservation conflicts and on how to handle them, like by having an increased awareness about dilemmas and to not be considering solutions too soon. Facilitating short lines between those involved and listening to people with local knowledge also showed to be important in this.

Conflicts about conservation management

Lately, the Netherlands has seen in several places conflicts about the way nature conservation is carried out. Like in the Oostvaardersplassen (Flevoland), where the shooting of red dear and the relocation of Konik horses made headlines, charging debate and campaigns that brought to light that people may have quite differing views on nature and hold strongly diverging values. Elsewhere in the Netherlands, the usefulness and necessity of management hunting are brought into question, even when this is taking place to ease any overgrazing and to safeguard other aspects of nature. Comparable debates and conflicts arose over the felling of trees that were exotic species or when this is done to create open space for heather or drifting sand. A lot of people declared that they value their familiar trees, very meaningful to them or that they value totally different kinds of nature. People will go to court for this, initiate petitions, hold demonstrations, feed social media and even may raise barricades or act destructive and threatening sometimes. These kinds of conflicts make operating organisations and field mangers wonder how they will be able deal with this, on the job.

Different kinds of conservation conflicts

The researchers made an inventory of nature conflicts that took place in the Netherlands during the past ten years. This yielded a – non-exhaustive– overview of 52 conflicts. Most of these conflicts were about felling or trimming trees and the creation or expansion of nature areas. Besides this, many conflicts were about management hunting. Other conflicts, less frequently occurring, were about the effects of land use planning, like rewetting, the governance of nature areas, the introduction of new animal species or the accessibility of the area. Most of the conflicts involved spontaneous or organised local groups, however, a part of the conflicts involved regional and national organisations.

Case studies management hunting and forest clearing

In two case studies, the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen and in Salland, the process was analysed on the basis of interviews and publications. An inventory was made of the strategies the actors had been using.  The networks and opinions of actors were examined and how those had developed over time. Special focus was on the role of social media. In the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen the matter at stake was the hunting of fallow deer. This was eventually met by a legal ruling. In Salland, the issue at stake was the planned transformation of forest into an open landscape. The clearing of forest was eventually reconsidered, when nationally a discussion exploded on any bearing this might have on climate change.

Lessons from conservation conflicts

The authors draw as a general conclusion that conflicts are ingrained in these processes. Sometimes constructive policy steps can be taken, but in other instances the only thing to do is to keep calm and implement the processes as transparent, pure and inclusive as possible. They recommend to start from the guidelines, that stem from the conflicts in the two mentioned case-studies: don't think in solutions but in dilemmas, facilitate short communication lines and listen to people with local knowledge. Conflicts are not merely negative, they contribute to making visible what goes around in society. In the longer run, a conflict will help to bring the many aspects of conservation policy to the table, in the open.