Barriers to rewilding on Sussex farmland : socio-psychological implications of rewilding on farmers’ Sense of Place

University essay from SLU/Dept. of Urban and Rural Development

Abstract: In the wake of the Brexit referendum and the UK’s planned subsequent departure from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, rewilding as a land management strategy is gaining significant attention. Despite the ecological and potentially economic advantages attached to rewilding, a great proportion of the farming community is still reluctant to adopt this approach on their land. By using the concept of Sense of Place, this thesis investigates the socio-psychological elements inherent to farmers’ relationship with their land and addresses the ways in which these elements may constitute barriers to rewilding. Using semi-structured interviews with conventional farmers, as well as with the owners of the Knepp Estate rewilding project in Sussex, UK, key patterns of farmers’ Sense of Place were identified. This was facilitated by the division of the concept into three key dimensions that are Place identity, Place attachment and Place dependence. Through the use of these key dimensions of Sense of Place, this thesis has identified three main socio-psychological barriers to rewilding. Firstly, rewilding is perceived as requiring an inevitable sacrifice of the farmers’ daily agricultural practices which is key to their identity. Through their practice, farmers develop an intimate knowledge and strong emotional connections to their land which reinforce their identity as farmers. Secondly, rewilding challenges the ‘Good Farmer’ status crucial to their self-esteem and position in society. The ‘Good Farmer’ status is maintained by the farmer’s dedication to food production and is advertised through visual symbols associated with farm aesthetics, both of which rewilding challenges. Finally, farmers take pride in their role as custodians of rural landscapes and traditions, and thus tend to reject rewilding as a strategy promoted by people from outside of the farming community. This study’s findings offer a farmer-focused contribution to the ongoing discussion surrounding the introduction of rewilding into British farmland. It also demonstrates that the socio-psychological processes guiding farmers’ worldviews should not be overlooked by policymakers when pushing for new agri-environmental strategies in rural areas.

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