The collision between ‘official’, elite and state-sanctioned conservation schemes and those reliant on the use of the land and its resources for their livelihood has long been a touchstone of North American environmental history. In the still emergent environmental-history movement in the UK, however, such concerns remain obscure. This paper offers a departure. Drawing on Karl Jacoby’s concept of ‘moral ecology’ developed in the context of dispossessions enacted in the making of US national parks, the paper examines three ‘moments’ when, in the name of ‘conservation’, elites attempted to delimit and restrict customary ways of being in rural Gloucestershire. In so doing, the paper not only shows that such schemes were resisted and were a critical way in which demotic-elite and local-central relations were shaped, but also that externally imposed conservation schemes placed nature-culture relations as a critical wellspring of protest and politics in the countryside. Moral ecology therefore allows for a close attention to the importance of the material – and discursive framings of the material – in the study of conflict and protest past and present, and forces historians of the countryside to take seriously the ways in which vernacular environmental ethics shaped both past landscapes and social relations.