Structural and narrative reconstruction of rural residents' representations of ‘nature’, ‘wildlife’, and ‘landscape’

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The objective of this paper is the structural and narrative reconstruction of representations of ‘nature’, ‘wildlife’ and ‘landscape’, held by rural residents of the Dadia Forest Reserve. Data collection involved in-depth interviews. Employing a social representations' approach, we recovered representational elements that are expected in the case of rural belief systems, such as negative dispositions towards wolves and foxes, as well as elements of an urban adherence, such as nature's independence. Representational elements refer to visual aspects of the countryside, which seem compatible with the figurative nucleus of the rural idyll. Concerning ‘wildlife’, residents focused on vultures, which comprise the main tourist attraction of the reserve. Scientific knowledge adds to the complexity of the narrative schema, which corresponds to the representation of ‘wildlife’. Interviewees perceived the rural landscape as an interface between the natural and the human-conditioned environment. Our study shows that interviewees make no reference to environmental conservation or quality of life issues, as it could be expected according to relatively wide definitions of the term ‘environmentalism’. Environmental messages reinforced by ecotourism development seem to be recalled primarily in terms of their compatibility with the perceived economic benefit of local people. Despite ecotourism development, representational elements that diverge from a tourist version of ‘nature’, ‘wildlife’ and ‘landscape’ were not pronounced within rural belief-systems. Further interventions within the study area are needed, in order to address a variety of topics under the environmental conservation discourse and raise the environmental awareness of rural residents.

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