Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems

Research Papers

Farmers and nature conservation: What is known about attitudes, context factors and actions affecting conservation?

Johan Ahnströma1 c1, Jenny Höckerta2, Hanna L. Bergeåa2, Charles A. Francisa3 p1, Peter Skeltona4 and Lars Hallgrena2

a1 Department of Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Box 7023, S75007, Uppsala, Sweden.

a2 Department of Urban and Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Box 7012, SE75007, Uppsala, Sweden.

a3 University of Nebraska, 102B KCR, Lincoln, NE 68583-0915, USA.

a4 New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM 87701, USA.


Farmers' attitudes towards viability of specific conservation practices or actions strongly impact their decisions on adoption and change. This review of ‘attitude’ information reveals a wide range of perceptions about what conservation means and what the impacts of adoption will mean in economic and environmental terms. Farmers operate in a tight financial situation, and in parts of the world they are highly dependent on government subsidies, and cannot afford to risk losing that support. Use of conservation practices is most effective when these are understood in the context of the individual farm, and decisions are rooted in land and resource stewardship and long-term concerns about health of the farm and the soil. The attitudes of farmers entering agri-environmental schemes decide the quality of the result. A model is developed to show how attitudes of the farmer, the farming context and agri-environmental schemes interact and thus influence how the farming community affects nature and biodiversity. As new agri-environmental schemes are planned, agricultural development specialists need to recognize the complexity of farmer attitudes, the importance of location and individual farmer circumstances, and the multiple factors that influence decisions. We provide these insights and the model to conservation biologists conducting research in farming areas, decision makers who develop future agri-environmental schemes, educators training tomorrow's extension officers and nature conservationists, and researchers dealing with nature conservation issues through a combination of scientific disciplines.

(Accepted August 13 2008)

(Online publication December 10 2008)

Key Words:

  • attitude;
  • biodiversity;
  • stewardship;
  • agri-environmental scheme


c1 Corresponding author:

p1 Present address: Norwegian University Life Sciences, PO 5003, NO-1432, Norway.