Does expertise matter? An in-depth understanding of people’s structure of thoughts on nature and its management implications

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Understanding people’s way of thoughts on the natural environment may improve communication and collaboration between professionals and stakeholders from the general public. Focusing on similarities and differences between professionals and the public, this study investigates the relation between people’s way of thoughts and actual attitudes towards conservation measures. Based on an innovative hybrid of quantitative and qualitative research methods, we show that people’s thoughts on nature and landscape have a specific structure, consisting of clusters of normative (how we value it), experiential (how we experience it emotionally) and descriptive (how we define it) meanings. Although professionals and the public use similar structure of thoughts, the specific content and relevance of these thoughts differ significantly. Professionals referred to normative meanings four times more often than the public. Because analysis showed people’s general thoughts on nature informed concrete attitudes on conservation measures, these results have clear management implications. For example, we found important differences in the preferred conservation focus. Contrary to the professional focus on species, habitats and ecosystem health, the public tended to evaluate conservation measures on their effects on individual animals and trees and their consequences for scenic quality. Results may help practitioners to find common ground for discussing with critical groups in society. Expanding communication from predominantly normative arguments to include also the emotional connotations of nature may contribute to a shared emotional connection with the public that can be a powerful tool to overcome resistance and build shared visions on conservation issues.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)184-191
JournalBiological Conservation
Publication statusPublished - 2013



  • biodiversity conservation
  • policy
  • representations
  • landscape
  • participation
  • netherlands
  • experience
  • attitudes
  • conflicts
  • europe

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