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Economic incentives and conservation conflicts - approach with caution

A new study from the University of Kent has urged general caution in relation to the deployment of economic instruments to resolve contemporary conservation conflicts.

The study, which was led by Professor Douglas MacMillan, Head of the University’s School of Anthropology and Conservation, investigated the theory that market-based economic incentives are increasingly perceived as a cost effective approach to biodiversity conservation. Specifically, he examined the potential role of market incentives to increase venison production as a mechanism to resolve conflicts over wild red deer management in the Scottish Highlands.

Across North America and North-West Europe there is growing recognition of the environmental and social problems created by expanding populations of wild deer species. In Britain, as in other parts of Europe and the USA, deer numbers are thought to be higher than at any time in history as a result of altered environmental and habitat conditions such as milder winters, predator removal, improved pasturage and forest expansion. While complaints about damage to agricultural and forestry crops are not new, more contemporary concerns about road traffic accidents and damage to the natural heritage due to overgrazing have attracted increasing concern and interest among the scientific, academic and policy communities as well as the popular media.

Consequently, it has been suggested that government support for the venison market might provide the necessary additional incentive to intensify culling efforts on private land.

However, using both qualitative and quantitative data analysis, Professor MacMillan concluded that market incentives - ie improving venison revenues - is not a realistic solution to this problem as venison production is not fully compatible with sport stalking because of practical issues such as seasonality. He also concluded that personal but economically important reasons such as privacy, exclusivity and their value in the land market are also more important factors than revenues from venison.

Professor MacMillan said: ‘Across the UK wild deer numbers are increasing rapidly and there are no solutions in sight. As the economic costs of deer damage to crops, gardens and road users continues to rise the government appears largely impotent. Indeed simplistic assumptions about economic incentives may hamper efforts to control deer, especially if strong cultural and personal factors are not recognised.

‘New thinking is needed if we are to manage deer sustainably in the future and perhaps its time we learned from our European neighbours who require landowners to manage deer to agree limits. Current proposals, such as those under the Wildlife and Natural Environmental Bill that are currently going through the Scottish Parliament, fall far short in this respect.’

‘Can Economic Incentives Resolve Conservation Conflict: The Case of Wild Deer Management and Habitat Conservation in the Scottish Highlands’ (Douglas MacMillan, University of Kent; Sharon Phillip, University of Aberdeen) was published in Human Ecology, Vol. 38, Issue 4.


Story published at 12:00pm 27 September 2010

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Last Updated: 23/05/2013