Themes and case studies

Diverging streams of thinking and working spark unconventional approaches. Rethinking peace research concepts and theories and testing their applicability in local conservation conflicts may create new sensibilities. Conflicts may also be useful: they help to identify problems and inequalities, and they may be drivers for change. Sharing research findings but also hands-on experiences in conflict resolution and mediation is crucial. The project discusses different perspectives to prolonged conflicts and introduces a number of case studies highlighting the long-term dynamics of environmental conflicts.

Hunting and conservation in the UK uplands – Analysis of a long-running conflict

Steve Redpath

There is a long and bitter conflict between conservationists and managers of populations of the game bird, the red grouse, in the UK. Grouse managers are managing the land to try and maximise the numbers of grouse and in so doing they illegally kill hen harriers and other birds of prey. Conservationists are angry that these rare birds are killed to such an extent that they are virtually absent from intensively managed grouse moors. Research over 40 years has highlighted that harriers can have a large impact on grouse and in certain conditions can make driven grouse shooting unviable. Arguments now focus on how to manage the problem. A variety of technical solutions have been proposed to reduce impact, but increasingly the arguments are between those who seek to enforce the legislation and those who seek shared solutions through dialogue. Despite all the research, the long-term dialogue and the involvement of policy makers, we are currently in stalemate.

Moderate and discrete but important long-standing environmental conflicts. The case of the endless marmot conflict in French alpine national parks.

Isabelle Arpin

The case of the long term conflict over marmots in mowed meadows of the French alpine national parks illustrates the specificity and importance of moderately serious environmental conflicts. These conflicts are serious enough to complicate activities and spoil the relationships between the park managers and the farmers. Yet they generate only short-lived mobilizations and experimentations and potential solutions to the problem are never fully and collectively explored. Several decades after the creation of the national parks, this apparently minor conflict has contaminated more visible and serious conflicts, notably over the wolves, created weariness and bitterness among all the social groups involved and largely contributed to the degradation of relationships between the farmers and the managers. More generally, it has contributed to making the environmental domain appear to the local communities as a domain of life fraught with inextricable and endless problems and conflicts.

Embodied conflicts – interspecies interactions between humans, wolves and dogs

Taru Peltola

Affective, micro-level intensities, energies and impulses may enable us to anticipate danger and avoid conflict. Through the seemingly unimportant conflict between wolves and dogs in Finland it is possible to identify the role of such affective impulses in making the conflict persistent and entangled with broader questions of wolf policy. Dog owners mainly blame the wolf, even though wolf damage to dogs is the outcome of reciprocal interactions between humans, dogs and wolves. In many cases, the lack of human response-ability to the potentially dangerous situations leads to the death or injury of dogs. The conflict is further maintained by the Finnish wolf policy through its ”antiseptic” approach, focusing on wolf numbers rather than capacities to get prepared for the presence of the wolf.

Peltola, T. & Heikkilä, J. (2015) Response-ability in wolf-dog conflicts. European Journal of Wildlife Research 61 (5), 711-721.

Link to the article:

Critical events and post-traumatic dynamics in environmental conflicts: linking the 1960s “wars over rapids” to present hydropower plans.

Lasse Peltonen

The case of river Iijoki illuminates the historical dynamics of hydropower conflicts in Finland. The Finnish post-war modernisation project led to the large-scale construction of hydropower dams in Finland’s Northern rivers between the 1940s and 1960s. At first, the development was seen as a necessity for electrifying an industrial economy, whereby local losses of land and livelihoods such as farming, fishing and reindeer husbandry, were perceived as an inevitable sacrifice. Grievances were thus suppressed, ”fists clenched in our pockets”. Later, especially in the 1970s and 80s, the opposition against the effects of hydropower and regulated water bodies grew. There was a growing recognition that the losses imposed on local communities and livelihoods were unjust. The opposition led to multiple instances of struggle and protest, named ”wars over rapids”, which were finally channeled towards a legislative solution, the Act for the Conservation of Rapids in 1987.

The legislative solution, however, has not prevented the conflict from resurfacing. The long-standing conflict was recently re-ignited through the new Kollaja hydropower plant proposal in central Iijoki. This has led to contestation and ”opening old wounds”.

The Iijoki case highlights certain conflict dynamics at play. First, present escalation is driven by past experiences; the traumatic history of hydropower conflict explains the contentiousness of new hydropower proposals. Second, new policy regimes highlight new aspects of old technologies. In this case, climate policy has created a new demand for clean electricity and hydropower. Third, the evolution of longer cycles of environmental and post-material values is at play, placing new value on, e.g. restoration of migratory fish species and the importance recreational fishing. Fourth, the dynamics of resurfacing conflict seems to be linked to ”political opportunities”, affected by election cycles. Finally, the long-term history of the Iijoki case can be understood in the context of long-term extractive use of northern and peripheral natural resources, which goes far beyond WWII.

Exploring the memory landscape of mire conflicts in Finland

Maria Åkerman

Mire conflicts in Finland are constantly evolving and changing. As typical land use conflicts, the struggles over peat extraction or mire conservation have often been analysed in terms of conflicting land use interests or value bases. While studying the argumentation of affected parties in different mire conflicts Maria got struck by the strong presence of different cultural narratives and shared memories in shaping the presumably rational argumentation. Mires symbolized the transformation of a poor nation into a welfare society, the hard working character of people and the freedom of individuals versus the power of money and the state. These memories seem to be also embedded in the materialities of mire use (power plants using peat, existing mire conservation areas, berry picking & nature based tourism etc.) in many ways. Following from that, she would like to further explore how various memory practices shape long term environmental conflicts and create lock-ins or open up new paths to solve the problems.

The Arctic Paradox. Global climate change and Arctic oil and gas development.

Teemu Palosaari

The local dilemma between traditional means of livelihood and modern hydrocarbon and mining industry, and the global environmental impacts of melting ice is an example of the conflict potential of climate change in the Arctic.

Findings on how the key actors frame Arctic oil and gas development and what problem definition, moral evaluation and treatment recommendations they promote are crucial to understand the situation. A key issue is to analyze how they grasp the relationship between development of resources in the Arctic and the efforts to limit average global warming to 2 degrees.



The sound of slow violence and the making of eco-documentary: This Creek

Tanya Stadelmann

Tanya’s research centers around environmental justice issues, and she explores theories across disciplines such as sociology, cultural anthropology, eco criticism, documentary film and sound studies. Her film, “This Creek”, is an experimental documentary (work-in-progress) about a community living near a Superfund site (abandoned toxic waste site) in Lockport, a small industrial town in Western New York. Eco-critical ideas such as slow violence (Rob Nixon), trans-corporeality (Stacy Alaimo), and testimonial narratives (Mei Mei Evans) as a tool for environmental justice have inspired some of her formal strategies in editing the film. As a sonic motif to represent the timelessness of slow-working chemical contamination, she incorporated electronic drone music by British composer Paul Bradley. Layering archival x-ray footage of bodies with local home movies was a method to visually represent the diseased trans-corporeal body enmeshed with the landscape. Some of her research compares the long-term conflicts that occurred at the historical environmental disaster Love Canal (Niagara Falls, 20 miles east) in 1980 and Lockport in 2013. Conflicts between the residents, state and federal agencies are still rife despite the federal and state Superfund clean up laws and new communication technologies. This comparative study led her to examine the topic of what initiates environmental activism. In both cases, there would never have been a clean up or conflict resolution without the political grass roots efforts of activists.

Resolving conflicts between food security and biodiversity conservation under uncertainty

Nils Bunnefeld

Environmental conflicts are often damaging to long term sustainability, biodiversity and human livelihoods but we are currently missing a framework that is interdisciplinary and theory driven to tackle the complex ecological and social of systems and landscapes in which conflicts take place. These landscapes and systems are also dynamic and the problem is exacerbated by increasing levels of uncertainty due to current climate, land use and demographic change. Building on existing theories in social sciences, economics and ecology/fisheries, a new interdisciplinary and dynamic framework for conflict resolution needs to be developed that embraces uncertainties as integral an part of dynamic social-ecological systems.

Stakeholder engagement to mitigate conflicts 

Estelle Balian

Researchers in conservation projects are more and more aware of the need to work with local actors applying a range of participative methods so their research results and possible management recommendations are better understood and implemented. The role of the researchers is then evolving in these transdisciplinary projects and so is their responsibility. Participation of actors can not be just cosmetic and if stakeholders are asked to contribute, their contribution must be taken in consideration or this might increase the risk for conflicting situations and blockages.

Estelle works on the upstream engagement of relevant stakeholders in both research projects and policy implementation processes. It can help avoid or at least mitigate local conflicts as trust and common understanding can be slowly but surely developed throughout the research stages.

Combining bottom-up and top-down approaches in conflict management

Juliette Young

Juliette’s study about the long-term conflict between seal conservation and fisheries in North-East Scotland outlines a number of challenges with increased participation in conflict management. She has identified four key conditions that were crucial to the successful participatory management of this biodiversity conflict: a local champion, the emergence of a crisis point, the involvement of decision-makers, and long-term financial and institutional support. Three of the four conditions point to the role of direct government involvement, highlighting the risk of devolving all responsibility for biodiversity conflict management to local communities. Without an informed debate and top-down support to local communities, the move towards bottom-up approaches could pose a danger to hard-won policy gains in relation to public participation, biodiversity conservation and conflict management.


Development of Finnish wolf policy

Outi Ratamäki

When looking at the discourses and arguments of conflictual Finnish wolf political talk, one can easily see that content-wise there has been very little change over the past decades. Major disputes between stakeholders have remained static (see references below). One possible approach to this is to see if and how we can affect the contents of political disputes by making changes to the processes where these arguments are created and presented or the processes where stakeholders (including wolves) encounter each other. In the latest Finnish wolf management plan (published in 2015) there are several tools, which introduce a change to the ways things are being done. One of the most disputed tools is the allowing of annual wolf hunt. This is a two-year trial to see if ‘out of control’ illegal hunting can be reduced by allowing controlled legal hunting. Future research work will show if this trial was a success.

Ratamäki, Outi (2013). From Ecological Concerns toward Solving Societal Problems?: A case study of the Development of Finland’s Wolf Policy. International Journal of Information Systems and Social Change 4 (2), 42-58. DOI: 10.4018/jissc.2013040103

Ratamäki, Outi (2015). Elements, Orders, and Modes of Governance in the Development of Finnish Wolf Policy. In: Merviö, Mika (ed.). Handbook of Research on Managing the Public Sphere. IGI Global: Hershey, Pennsylvania. pp. 38-61. DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8553-6.ch002

More-than-human view to environmental conflicts: The slow, local process of conviviality

Nina Nygren

The conflict between land use planning and flying squirrels has plagued land use planning in and around growing cities in Southern Finland for a long time. The temporary and localized resolution – or perhaps prevention – of conflict in Espoo highlights a transforming conflict situation. It seems that a big and important metro line project was needed to convince a Finnish municipality to do flying squirrel conservation differently. In this sense it could be said that previous conflicts were necessary to put pressure on doing conservation properly – to learn how to live with flying squirrels.

Artistic response to conflict

Inge Thomson

Inge is a musician, composer and performer from Scotland. She has been involved in an ongoing environmental conflict for some years. She recently wrote and produced a body of work ‘Da Fishing Hands’, the main aims being to raise awareness, engage public and act as support for the cause.

Her experience from a campaign to obtain marine protected status for her native island of Fair Isle illuminates how artists could be engaged positively in a situation of long term conflict. The marine protected area status important to the people of Fair Isle for several reasons – Fair Isle’s main financial income is from tourism. The seabirds are one of our main attractions and due to over fishing and climate change several species are experiencing severe deterioration in numbers. The island seeks to have a 5km fishing limit around the island to allow fishing stocks to recover and to protect known nursery grounds. Fair Isle is a very small exposed landmass lying in between Orkney and Shetland off the north coast of Scotland in one of the most unforgiving stretches of water around the British Isles. The sea represents life to the islanders, it runs in their blood, so this campaign has been fiercely fought.