Skip to navigation Skip to content


Human-Wildlife Conflict

Co-existence versus conflict…

Human-Wildlife Conflict

Co-existence versus conflict

One of the many challenges in managing “human–wildlife conflict” is the very description itself. Is it a battle between human beings and wildlife, or a problem that is fundamentally between people, including conservationists, policy makers, landowners, fishermen, hunters and farmers? And should we persist in calling them “conflicts” at all? Should we not be talking about co-existence rather than conflict?

After more than 30 years studying hen harriers and the conflict between those who want to protect them and those who want to kill them because of the impact they have on grouse shooting, Professor Steve Redpath,
the Chair of Conservation Science at the University of Aberdeen, is looking much further afield. Currently spending a year in Sweden as the King Carl XVI Gustaf Professor in Environmental Science, Redpath is also beginning to focus much more on “how to design effective strategies for managing conflict,” informed by his experience and knowledge of ecology. And he also questions the language we use to describe these very complex and difficult “conflicts.”

“So-called ‘human–wildlife conflicts’ are really conflicts between people over wildlife,” says Redpath. “There are two main dimensions – the interactions between the wildlife and the people, and the conflict between different groups of people. Yet, just because a species has an impact on human lives or livelihoods, does not mean there is conflict. In many places all around the world, people co-exist with wildlife, even when the wildlife may cause lots of damage.” The conflicts generally arise, he explains, between people with very different values about wildlife and land use.

For Redpath, “conflict resolution” is no longer the primary issue. Twenty-five years ago, when he had his first experience of wildlife conflict on grouse moors, he thought that if we just understood the ecology we could find a resolution to the problem. Nowadays, he recognises that it is almost impossible to resolve conflicts over values. “We need to acknowledge the persistent nature of these issues and move from seeking win–win solutions to setting up processes to manage the conflicts in the long run and minimise their destructive effects,”  he says. “Conflict management will benefit from dialogue, not necessarily to reach consensus, but to recognise and appreciate other legitimate world views and explore the trade-offs.”

In Redpath's view, “Robust ecology will always contribute a lot to our understanding of these issues, by helping us explore the impact of predators on their prey, for example. But because these conflicts are fundamentally social, we also need insights from psychology, political science and other social sciences to help us understand 
that human dimension.”

However, adds Redpath, we have to go further than that: “Even if the research is world class, stakeholders and policy makers may ignore or dismiss it for various reasons. At the same time, scientists sometimes ignore valid local knowledge. So, we need to build better links between the research and the stakeholders and policy makers, to ensure the science is more relevant and that it is taken seriously. If we can co-produce our  knowledge and people have ownership of it, then we are more likely to develop a shared understanding of the  problems and be more effective in how our science is used.”

As a result of his experience over the years, Redpath and his group now focus on “gaining understanding across different study systems across the world,” from snow leopards in the Himalayas to geese in Sweden, to large carnivores in Namibia and raptors in the UK. “We need to learn the lessons from the rich diversity of conflicts that have been studied, so that we can understand what works in different contexts, and help design effective strategies to cope with the conflicts,” he says.

As well as studying various species in countries all over the world, Redpath also confesses that he still has
“a soft spot” for hen harriers: “This is the species that drew me into this world of conflict research in the first place. I spent many wonderful years studying harriers and the equally charismatic red grouse. Yet despite all that research, the conflict is becoming increasingly polarised, amidst continued illegal killing.”

Redpath is still optimistic, however, that science can help find a way forward that eliminates the need for illegal killing, whilst still allowing driven grouse shooting to continue – in other words, that hen harriers and driven shooting can coexist.

Conflict management

One example cited by Redpath highlights what can be achieved – a project in the Moray Firth which was the subject of a study by Dr Juliette Young, a biodiversity policy researcher at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. After the Scottish Government introduced a conservation order to protect the seal population, local fishermen complained about the impact on salmon. After some discussion, the Moray Firth Seal Management Plan (MFSMP) was developed, focusing on the need to balance seal and salmon conservation, by getting all the relevant stakeholders together, including conservationists and fishermen, to agree on a management plan for the conflict.

“The plan has been very effective,” says Redpath, “and other species would benefit from similar adaptive
co-management plans.”

Redpath also sees continued investment in such long-term processes as vital to ensure long-term sustainability – as part of a more inclusive and proactive approach. “These value conflicts cannot be resolved, but can be effectively managed,” he says. “That's why we need investment in conflict management, to bring different parties together, and not wait until the conflicts have exploded. And as part of this we need to design effective institutions to support that and we need the political will to manage the conflicts.”

“Human–wildlife conflicts damage people as well as the wildlife,” says Redpath, who is also turning his attention  now to species such as wolves and bears – the larger carnivores which sometimes make the headlines in
various regions of Europe, especially when they attack human beings.

Redpath has dedicated much of his career to “human–wildlife conflicts,” but even though he questions the terminology used to describe them and whether or not we can ever resolve them completely, he knows there will always be conflicts of one kind or another – whether the headline is “man bites dog” or “bear kills tourist.”


The Sweden connection

Professor Steve Redpath is the current King Carl XVI Gustaf Professor in Environmental Science – an appointment by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, supported by a fund set up in 1996 “to promote research, technological development and enterprise that contributes to the sustainable use of natural resources and the maintenance of biodiversity,” including annual grants to 15–20 young researchers.

“Sweden invests more than the UK or Scotland in conflict management,” says Redpath, “but they are also keen to learn how we approach these damaging issues.”


New conflict research group

Amidst the growing interest in human–wildlife conflicts, researchers from the Universities of Aberdeen, Stirling and Edinburgh are teaming up with institutes across Scotland, including the James Hutton Institute and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, to form the Conservation Conflict Research Group. According to Professor Steve Redpath, “The aim is to learn from each other, share ideas and develop papers and proposals. We also hope to include policy makers in the network and any other interested researchers.”








"Human-Wildlife Conflict". Science Scotland (Issue Twenty-one)
Printed from on 06/07/20 12:28:04 PM

Science Scotland is a science & technology publication brought to you by The Royal Society of Edinburgh (