What lies beneath
: probing the cultural depths of a nature conservation conflict in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland

  • Ruth Brennan

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by OU/Aberdeen)


On the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, the challenges and forces conditioning the community are natural and social. Buffeted by the Atlantic sea and perched at the periphery of the most westerly inhabited islands in Scotland, linguistically different to mainland Scotland, religiously distinct from much of the rest of the Hebrides and bearing the psychological legacy of nineteenth century Highland Clearances, this case-study illustrates how a social-ecological system responds to the dominant narrative of conservation in the marine policy environment.
This thesis explores the cultural depths of a conflict between the local community and the Scottish Government around the creation of two marine Special Areas of Conservation (mSAC) off the coast of the island. Barra’s rich maritime heritage suggested the presence of embedded values that appeared to be colliding with values driving the mSAC designation process. Visual participatory methods were used to understand what 'conservation' means for the islanders and to find a way of connecting the worldviews of decision-makers with the marine environment lived and experienced by the local community. The story of Barra exposes the perils of isolating the human dimension of conservation and planning that ensures sustainable
livelihoods from the natural ecosystem conservation dimension. It considers how challenging the dominant narrative of conservation through the articulation of competing realities can create space for different narratives to emerge. It provides insights into the role played by competing value systems in natural resource management and conservation conflicts.
Date of Award31 Jul 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Edinburgh
SponsorsSAMS Studentship
SupervisorLaurence Mee (Supervisor), Frank Rennie (Supervisor) & Tavis Potts (Supervisor)

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