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Research article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

A cup of tea? - The role of social relationships, networks and learning in land managers’ adaptations to policy change

Eastwood, Antonia; Fischer, Anke; Hague, Alice; Brown, Katrina


Within international and, more specifically, European policy there is a shift towards managing land for multiple benefits and in the public interest. This necessitates greater collaboration between different actors, often with diverging management objectives, across a landscape. Here we present the findings of a qualitative study exploring the influence of social relationships, networks and associated power on land managers’ decision-making, collaborative management and implementation of policy change across a national park in Scotland. We found that social relationships and networks were key in facilitating transformative change in land management but could also consolidate the status quo of land management practices and thus hamper change. Consequently, we observed a polarisation of management practices across the national park shaped by social relationships and networks; with one trend towards an intensification of traditional land use (grouse shooting), and another one towards landscape restoration and nature-based solutions. Top-down collaborative groups, composed of participants with divergent views and perspectives, and designed to promote policy uptake, had not yet improved mutual understanding or social learning. By contrast, voluntary collaboration between like-minded estates strengthened existing views, resulting in polarisation. Poor relationships and distrust between some actors constrained social learning and collaborative decision-making between land managers with diverging interests. However, personal one-to-one relationships, developed over time, between agency staff and land managers could moderate patterns of polarisation, where land managers were amenable and had the capacity to make changes to management. Our research shows that collaborative arrangements may not be the silver bullet for policy uptake or adaptation to change. We instead suggest that a better understanding of where social relationships and trust need to be built would be more effective. Explicit attention should also be placed on the design of collaborative processes to increase the sense of fairness, balance out power dynamics and facilitate social learning. © 2021 The Authors


social learning; adaptive co-management; trust; power; protected areas

Published in

Land Use Policy
2022, Volume: 113, article number: 105926

    Sustainable Development Goals

    Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
    Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Social Sciences Interdisciplinary

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