Wildlife comeback in Flanders: tracing the fault lines and dynamics of public debate

Abstract

Conflicts and debates on wildlife issues often prove “intractable” or resistant to resolution. This paper develops a three-layered methodological approach to identify the fault lines and dynamics, which perpetuate social division and conflict. This approach was applied to the analysis of six publicly debated events that followed the comeback of the red fox and wild boar in Flanders, Belgium. The integrated findings demonstrate that conflict was not merely a manifestation of incompatible goals and views, but was highly determined by the conduct of the debate itself. The debates evolved along a few main fault lines, most notably “belonging/not belonging”, “opportunity/threat” and “control by intervention/nature controls itself”. A number of dynamics were identified along these fault lines, including the convergence and alignment of arguments (in particular, dichotomisation), the linking and scaling up of issues and the stigmatisation of outgroups. These processes were largely driven by the parties’ strategies to gain credibility and support with audiences. At the same time, however, they tended to magnify the problems, polarised positions along the fault lines, and thus hampered resolution. Furthermore, part of the debate served to confirm institutional roles and identities, which, in turn, contributed to the perpetuation of conflict. Contrasting views on “nature” were hardly a topic of discussion. Rather they were locked into dichotomies and classifications expressed by the contending parties. Together, the findings from this paper provide useful clues for transforming the dynamics perpetuating the conflict to different dynamics that allow for more constructive relations between the parties involved.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Facebook Natuurpunt Hobokense Polder, 19.06.2011

  2. 2.

    Petition to save the fox set up by Bird Protection Flanders and Natuurpunt, 2010

  3. 3.

    Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO): “Population dynamics of Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) in Flanders”, www.inbo.be

  4. 4.

    K. Van Den Berghe: “Food ecology of the fox in Flanders”, presentation given at Symposium on Foxes, Brussels, 27.04.2005

  5. 5.

    Natuurpunt: “The fox”, www.natuurpunt.be

  6. 6.

    K. Van Den Berghe (INBO): “People should learn to live with foxes”, 25.11.2008, VILT (Flemish Information Centre for agriculture and horticulture), www.vilt.be

  7. 7.

    K. Van Den Berghe: “The fox vulpes vulpes in Flanders: inventory and synthesis of the major bottlenecks”, in: Mededelingen van het Instituut voor Bosbouw en Wildbeheer 1995 (1).

  8. 8.

    Wildlife Management Unit Flemish Ardennes: “Is there still a need for foxes”, 21.03.2013, http://www.wbe.be/vlaamseardennen

  9. 9.

    Discussion on the Bouwinfo forum: “Living together with the fox” 22.10.2010 www.bouwinfo.be

  10. 10.

    H. Schockaert: “The cunning old fox ?!?”, http://home.scarlet.be/webvos

  11. 11.

    Nature Help Centre: “Foxes shot…”, 01.03.2009, www.natuurhulpcentrum.be

  12. 12.

    News article: “Poultry holder considers petition against protection of foxes”, Agripress 26.07.2012

  13. 13.

    Nature Help Centre: “Foxes”, www.natuurhulpcentrum.be

  14. 14.

    Bird Protection Flanders: “Foxes and poultry”, www.vogelbescherming.be

  15. 15.

    Public reactions on Radio 1 programme “fox soon outlawed?” 06.04.2010, www.radio1.be

  16. 16.

    Nature Help Centre: “Once again dead foxes…” 04.01.2005, www.natuurhulpcentrum.be

  17. 17.

    Discussion on the Bouwinfo forum: “Slaughter in our henhouse”, 06.11.2011 www.bouwinfo.be

  18. 18.

    K. Van Den Berghe (INBO): “People should learn to live with foxes”, 25.11.2008, VILT (Flemish Information Centre for agriculture and horticulture), www.vilt.be

  19. 19.

    G. Hoste (Flemish comedian): column in Mens & Vogel, October 2010

  20. 20.

    I. Sabbe: “Fox population in Flanders should be regulated” Press release LDD 20.10.2010 www.ldd.be

  21. 21.

    Y. Sterverlynxk: “Preface”, De Vlaamse Jager, September 2012

  22. 22.

    P. Symens (Natuurpunt): Parliamentary Hearing 26.10.2010

  23. 23.

    J. Schrijvers (HVV) in Parliamentary Hearing 26.10.2010

  24. 24.

    I. Sabbe (LDD) in Parliamentary Annals 23.12.2010

  25. 25.

    W. Van Gils (Natuurpunt) in: “Extension fox hunting is bad signal”, 13.01.2012, Vilt (Flemish information centre for agriculture and horticulture), www.vilt.be

  26. 26.

    K. Van Den Berghe (INBO) in the television reportage Panorama, VRT, 06.02.2011

  27. 27.

    K. Van Den Berghe (INBO) in news article “The fox has done it again”, De Standaard 21.06.2008

  28. 28.

    P. Symens (Natuurpunt) in Parliamentary Hearing 26.10.2010

  29. 29.

    Natuurpunt: “Towards sound fox management: what came before”, 07.02.2012, http://zoogdierenwerkgroep.be

  30. 30.

    J. Rodts in reaction of Bird Protection Flanders to the proposal of resolution for the extension of fox hunting, 26.10.2010, www.vogelbescherming.be

  31. 31.

    Minister J. Schauvliege in television reportage Panorama, VRT, 06.02.2011

  32. 32.

    D. Draulans (science journalist): “The fox has become an outlaw”, Knack, 15.08.2013

  33. 33.

    ROBIN: Open letter to Minister Joke Schauvliege, www.fierdatikeenvosben.be

  34. 34.

    News article: “Wild boar spotted in the Dyle valley”, Het Nieuwsblad 08.03.2012

  35. 35.

    G. Reinbold (Brussels Institute for Management of the Environment) in: “Wild boar and roe deer populations remain stable”, 27.06.2013, www.zonienwoud.be

  36. 36.

    K. Vanheukelom (Boerenbond Limburg) in: “Population wild boar dangerously large in Limburg”, 25.09.2012, Vilt (Flemisch information centre for agriculture and horticulture), www.vilt.be

  37. 37.

    News article: “Boars better stay in Wallonia”, De Standaard 12.02.2012

  38. 38.

    I. Deroo (Boerenbond) in news article: “The hunt is open again?” De Morgen 29.05.2012

  39. 39.

    Agency for Nature and Forest (ANB): Wild boar management vision, February 2011

  40. 40.

    J. Rodts (Bird Protection Flanders) in: “The hunt is open again?” De Morgen 29.05.2012

  41. 41.

    “True wild boar in Flanders?” INBO Newsletter July 2009

  42. 42.

    Nature Help Centre: “New creatures in Nature” 06.12.2011 http://www.natuurhelpcentrum.be

  43. 43.

    Natuurpunt, 17.05.2011 www.natuurpunt.be

  44. 44.

    C. Steenwegen (Natuurpunt): “Make space for the primal power of Nature. The wild boars should stay”, De Standaard 29.19.2012

  45. 45.

    I. Schops (Regional Landscape Kempen and Maasland): presentation given at Symposium on wild boar 25.09.2010

  46. 46.

    News article: “Limburg is full: there can be no more wild boar. Het Belang Van Limburg 02-03.02.2013.

  47. 47.

    H. Broers (mayor of Voeren) in news article: “Farmers demand action against overpopulation wild boar” Het Nieuwsblad 26.09.2012

  48. 48.

    C. Steenwegen (Natuurpunt) in news article: “Agriculture is jointly responsible”, De Zondag 11.11.2012

  49. 49.

    News article: “Wild boar and hunters play cat and mouse in Limburg”, De Standaard 27-28.10.2012

  50. 50.

    Public reactions on news articke: “110 hunters don’t shoot one boar”, Het Belang Van Limburg 15.04.2013

  51. 51.

    Public reactions on news article: “Hunt organised against roaming wild boar”, Het Nieuwsblad 31.01.2013

  52. 52.

    Committee meeting Flemish parliament 15.01.2013

  53. 53.

    “Wild boars attack jogger with dog”, Het Belang Van Limburg 21.11.2011

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Acknowledgments

This paper derives from research funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development: the BESAFE project, grant number 282743.

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Correspondence to Ann Van Herzele.

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Communicated by R. White

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Van Herzele, A., Aarts, N. & Casaer, J. Wildlife comeback in Flanders: tracing the fault lines and dynamics of public debate. Eur J Wildl Res 61, 539–555 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10344-015-0925-5

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Keywords

  • Intractable conflict
  • Dynamics of debate
  • Human-wildlife conflict
  • Fault line
  • Argumentation
  • Dichotomisation
  • Views on nature