What lies beneath: probing the cultural depths of a nature conservation conflict in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland (Doctoral thesis, 2015)

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 research 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 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.



You can listen to me talking about the early stages of this research in a podcast interview from the second MASTS Annual Science Meeting at Heriot Watt Conference Centre, 11-13 September 2012.

Brennan R. 2012. Fieldwork Report. March 2013

Brennan R. 2012. Fieldwork Report. January 2012

Brennan R., Mee L. and Potts T. 2011. Sound of Barra pSAC Consultation: Response of the Scottish Association for Marine Science. November 2011



Professor Laurence Mee (Director of Studies 2009-14). SAMS

Professor Frank Rennie (Director of Studies 2015), Lews Castle College UHI

Dr Tavis Potts, SAMS and University of Aberdeen



University of the Highlands and Islands



Fieldwork during 2011-2013 was funded by the National Trust for Scotland (Value £8000)