Economic policies for nature conservation in the UK: Sites of Special Scientific Interest
Traill Thomson, Josephine Ann
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This thesis examines the decision process leading to conservation policies in the UK. Focusing on Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), it explores the hypothesis of conventional economic theory that economic regulation is determined by interest groups competing for political influence (Becker, 1983). During the 1980s, increased public awareness of issues concerning nature conservation has resulted in a tightening of legislation. This resulted in substantial increases in budget allocation towards these measures to compensate for the transfer of private property rights from individual farmers and landowners to the public to internalise externalities arising from current agricultural practices.In order to examine the above research issues an integrated survey was conducted which focused on three target populations: farmers; local organisations; and, policy-makers. It was found that the overall framework of national UK policy is determined at the European level. UK based interest groups then negotiate within this framework to determine the UK's interpretation and consequent implementation of EU Directives. The research illustrated that a purely economic approach, which focuses on the competition between interest groups over the redistribution of public resources, is insufficient because it abstracts from the complexity of the policy-making process itself. While interest groups were shown to provide the government with essential information, it was demonstrated that the government consists of individual decision-makers (civil servants) who have their own agendas.Individual farmer concerns over SSSIs were shown to focus on the imposition on their private property rights and freedom to derive benefit streams from their land. These concerns were successfully expressed by farming and landowning organisations and resulted in the reform of legislation in 1990 which sought to devolve decisions over implementation of policy to local regions.It was found that the policy-making process relies on a small number of key interest groups. The conflict between the private interests of farmers and landowners and the public interests of environmental and conservation groups was identified. The bias towards status quo private property rights in the UK limits the extent to which conservation and environmental interests can be secured in land use policy. However, the influence of the EU, which has a stronger commitment to enviromnental policy than the UK national government, will increasingly challenge this bias in favour of public conservation and environmental interests. Finally, it was found that a multi-disciplinary approach is required to secure a comprehensive understanding of policy for conservation of natural resources and thus successful policy implementation.