Conservation on farms: Conflicting attitudes, social pressures and behaviour

Carr, Susan (1989). Conservation on farms: Conflicting attitudes, social pressures and behaviour. PhD thesis The Open University.



In the late 1970s and early 1980s, conservationists' concern about the loss of wildlife habitat on farmland escalated into open conflict with farmers, the conflict being heightened by controversy surrounding the passing of the Wildlife and Countryside Act in 1981. An improved understanding of the attitudes of farmers and conservationists would help ensure the most appropriate measures are adopted to resolve or avoid such conflict.

This research therefore compared the attitudes of farmers and conservationists in Bedfordshire in two pairs of surveys. In the first, free-ranging interviews were used to establish the range of opinions on farming and conservation held by the two groups. In the second, Fishbein and Ajzen's theory of reasoned action was used as the framework for a more detailed comparison of the differences in attitudes between the two communities. The correlation of attitudes and social pressures with farmers' behaviour was also explored for three conservation-related activities about which there was conflict: hedge management, pesticide use and straw disposal. The first survey revealed a complex matrix of shared, complementary and conflicting beliefs and values between and within the two communities. Examples of conflicting values included those concerning land ownership and freedom of individual action versus stewardship, and pride in an efficient, productive and tidy farm versus a wilder countryside. The second survey showed that while farmers agreed with conservationists about the advantages of conservation expressed in general terms, once decisions about specific farm practices were involved, attitudes to conservation and wildlife were far outweighed by attitudes to farming and business considerations. Social pressures on farmers from conservationists were minimal; the strongest social pressures came from within the farming community itself and these generally served to perpetuate the dominant farming values.

Although the theory of reasoned action provided a valuable means of exploring the role of attitudes, social pressures and behaviour in the conflict, some limitations in the use of the model in these complex circumstances were found. In particular it did not allow a distinction to be made between self-interested and deeply held values; the recommended method of constructing and scoring a behaviourial index was inappropriate where value judgements were involved; and respondents experienced difficulty in distinguishing between beliefs and values when evaluative opinion statements were used. Some suggestions for overcoming these limitations are made.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions