Category Archives: SLU

“In my dream god was a short Scottish woman dressed in tweed” (S. M. Redpath)

And she told Prof. Redpath and Michelle Obama that there is no problem in relocating native people.

You see this is going to be interesting. Yesterday Stephen M. Redpath, Scottish ecologist and conservation scientist, held a lecture about conservation conflict management at SLU. Since he is the 21st holder of the King Carl XVI Gustaf Professorship in Environmental Sciences, H.M. himself attended the lecture as well. The King brought excellent weather to Uppsala and in trade got a really interesting program I think.

Left: Landscape around SLU at sunset yesterday; Right: All flags up for the King

After a short introduction by Rector Peter Högberg, Prof. Henrik Andrén (SLU), Professor Redpath (University of Aberdeen), Prof. Maria Johansson (Lund University) and Prof. Camilla Sandström (Umeå University) each approached conservation conflicts from slightly different perspectives. Unfortunately for me, my non-Swedish seating neighbor – and Mr. Redpath I am afraid – three out of the four talks were held in Swedish. Although I am not sure I understood everything correctly, the Swedish speakers seemed to complement Prof. Redpath quite well.

Prof. Andrén gave an overview of the development of different wildlife species in Sweden and I think it was really interesting to see that more or less all their populations have increased during the last century. That obviously increases the threat of conflict between humans and nature.

Prof. Redpath picked up from there, focusing on the conflicts arising between different groups of people as a result of human-animal conflicts. To set our minds at ease, he began his presentation by playing Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze”, pointing out that conservation conflicts usually revolve around extremely emotional topics. That is why they quickly (and often) end up in heated and entrenched situations.

I am not an ecologist and I did not know about Prof. Redpath’s work before, but he has been working on some extremely fascinating issues. One of his recent projects is the protection of snow leopards in the Himalayas. In the meager mountain landscape, the predator’s diet can actually drive the people there below the poverty line, so they have been shooting these beautiful creatures. And here is where conflicts among different social groups arise from the natural competition between animals and humans. It is a fundamental conflict between conservation and human welfare, or livelihood, between killing the snow leopards and starving to death.

According to Prof. Redpath the four most common problems in conservation conflict management are (1) a lack of engagement, (2) a focus on ecology, (3) the missing agreement about evidence and (4) the ineffectiveness of interventions. He says that too often problems are managed in a “top-down” manner, which leads social tensions and low implementation rates. Prof. Redpath emphasized that there is a need for more dialogue: between the different parties of a dispute, but also between scientific disciplines. He urges ecologists to open up for interdisciplinarity, because social concepts, such as world views, norms and identities, affect the success of conservation policies significantly. There is often no agreement about evidence, because personal experience frequently does not match with scientific findings. Last but not least, the effectiveness of implemented projects always needs to be tested.

Prof. Stephen Redpath

Overall, Prof. Redpath advertised for a more holistic approach to conservation problems. In the example of the snow leopards, his team is trying out a collaborative approach, where they work together with the locals. They are trying to gain their trust and understanding to change their attitudes towards the animals. To reduce the conflict, there is also a need to generate alternative sources of income for these people. Prof. Redpath concluded that conflicts often can’t be overcome, but managed well and carefully if there is a will to do so. From his personal experience humor and whiskey are amongst the most effective communication strategies 🙂

Prof. Johansson and Prof. Sandström complemented the talk with their insights from environmental psychology and implementation processes of conservation policy in Sweden, respectively.

Maybe you are wondering why you find this post on the blog of an environmental economist. Well, because it is just really interesting. Also, I would like to follow Prof. Repath’s call for interdisciplinarity, as this is an issue concerning not only ecologists, but all scientists who try to solve environmental problems. It is never enough to approach a problem from one side. In the context of environmental issues economics often seems to be standing particularly far away from other disciplines, but I hope that this will change in the future. We should all try to foster cross-disciplinary dialogues instead of our prejudices.

Thanks to SLU and all speakers for a great event yesterday!

I hope you enjoyed reading.

/Franzi