We require better social science (conversations) to ensure ecological science (research) is shared to gain better traction at the grassroots.
The collective skills or ‘public goods’ (to use the modern parlance) that farmers and land managers have in store when dealing with the environment is huge.
The trouble is that current anxiety is causing some environmentalists to think that only use of ‘the stick‘ (enforcing regs and tightening up prescriptive schemes) will ensure wildlife is protected. Perhaps we can’t blame them because of the stitch-up during the last CAP reform when ‘greening’ ended up as a red herring which blacked out any meaningful benefit to biodiversity.
But waving a stick is rarely conducive to encouraging long term delivery of wildlife.
Falling back on regulation misses a trick on promoting voluntary low monetary cost, high environmental outcome works by farmers.
There is plenty of research proving voluntary environmental works work; a paper (Voluntary non-monetary approaches for implementing conservation) concludes, in a ‘clarion call to scientists’, that ‘nudging’ rather than ‘shoving’ farmers might facilitate more conservation on private land. (Pdf here)
It’s been mooted for years. This paper from 18 years ago is still relevant but neglected as no one has really bothered to ask: ‘Behavioural ecology of farmers: what does it mean for wildlife?’ It explains farmers’ attitudes towards conservation, and, as with all good science, it can be replicated. Research on ‘Engaging farmers in environmental management through a better understanding of their behaviour’ (pdf here) shows that empowering more equal partnerships with govt agencies and NGOs could deliver more wildlife or soils as this new paper demonstrates.
‘Farmer clusters’, self-propelled groups of land managers meeting in pubs, choosing their own advisers, are proved to work well.
“In my view once you understand what you have got, you don’t need countryside stewardship. People in general do not want to screw up the environment and if farmers and landowners actually know what nature they’ve got on their land, their behaviours will change. They want to demonstrate why their place is special and why they, as a private landowner, can be trusted to look after the land” Estates director in SW England
All of this could result in less dependency on public funded agri-enviro schemes – a boon at a time of great anxiety around post Brexit.
ps Letter in The Times 31.8.17 on the subject.
pps Updated Aug 19 with new research