Reconciling biodiversity conservation and agricultural expansion in the sub-arctic environment of Iceland

Lilja Johannesdottir, José A. Alves, Jennifer A. Gill, Tomas G. Gunnarsson

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Abstract

Intensified agricultural practices have driven biodiversity loss throughout the world and, although many actions aimed at halting and reversing these declines have been developed, their effectiveness depends greatly on the willingness of stakeholders to take part in conservation management. Knowledge of the willingness and capacity of landowners to engage with conservation can therefore be key to designing successful management strategies in agricultural land. In Iceland, agriculture is currently at relatively low intensity but is very likely to expand in the near future. At the same time, Iceland supports internationally important breeding populations of many ground-nesting birds which could be seriously impacted by further expansion of agricultural activities. To understand the views of Icelandic farmers towards bird conservation, given the current potential for agricultural expansion, 62 farms across Iceland were visited and farmers were interviewed, using a structured questionnaire survey in which respondents indicated a series of future actions. Most farmers intend to increase the area of cultivated land in the near future and, despite considering having rich birdlife on their land to be very important, most also report they are unlikely to specifically consider bird conservation in their management, even if financial compensation were available. However, as no agri-environment schemes are currently in place in Iceland, this concept is highly unfamiliar to Icelandic farmers. Nearly all respondents were unwilling, and thought it would be impossible, to delay harvest, but many were willing to consider sparing important patches of land and/or maintaining existing pools within fields (a key habitat feature for breeding waders). Farmers’ views on the importance of having rich birdlife on their land and their willingness to participate in bird conservation provide a potential platform for the co-design of conservation management with landowners before further substantial changes in the extent of agriculture take place in this sub-arctic landscape.
Original languageEnglish
Article number16
JournalEcology and Society
Volume22
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017

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