Perceptions and Management of Shrubby Regrowth in South Eastern Australia

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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    Agricultural, industrial, and urban landscapes are transforming throughout the world, with uncertain consequences. A common thread linking these disparate contexts is the spontaneous growth of vegetation that often results from the reduction or cessation of former human activity. The focus of this research was to better understand the socioecological phenomenon of spontaneous regrowth of shrubby native vegetation associated with land-use change away from agriculture. While abundant and extensive shrubby regrowth (dominated by the native species Cassinia arcuata) is likely to have significant social and environmental implications, there is uncertainty about how to understand and respond to it. Uncertainty arises because it is a relatively recent phenomenon, exacerbated by paucity of knowledge about the regrowth’s perceived social risks (including threats to human wellbeing) and opportunities (including potential broadscale land restoration and biodiversity conservation). In this research,
    perceptions of shrubby regrowth were explored in a study site in rural South Eastern Australia in order to inform future management at this site and to contribute to broader intellectual discussions about human-nature relations in rapidly changing rural landscapes throughout much of the world. The research, drawing on literature related to Euro-Australian human-nature relations, explored how changing environments are constructed and symbolised.

    The research was approached through a constructivist epistemology with an
    interpretivist theoretical framework, and by applying an ethnographic methodology. The ethnographic methods included semi-structured interviews of 53 respondents (including farmers, agency staff, and absentee landholders), observations of six stakeholder activities, and a review of eight public documents. While the methods were ethnographic, the intent was sociological, as social constructivist theory helped inform the interpretation of the ethnographic data. Grounded thematic analysis suggested that aspects of “discourse”—in particular, frames (philosophical perspectives) and narratives
    (themes of discussion), were influential in how different stakeholders perceived the change occurring in the case study.

    Stakeholders typically viewed the shrubby regrowth through one of three frames:
    “Control”—a negative interpretation of the regrowth, “Accept”—a positive
    interpretation; and “Ambivalent”—a fusion of the Control and Accept frames. Control was the most frequent frame through which the regrowth was viewed, with interpretations of the regrowth as unattractive, lacking in utility, natural but
    problematic, or not natural. There was anxiety about the regrowth as a fire hazard and as “taking over”. By contrast, stakeholders with the Accept frame viewed the shrubby regrowth as attractive, useful as habitat and for restoring land, and as natural and beneficial. There was anxiety about the future security of the regrowth. Further analysis of the qualitative data revealed that the narratives that emerged across the frames mainly fitted into themes labelled as Use, Anxiety, Nature, Aesthetic, Restoration, Conservation, and Bird.

    The frames through which the regrowth was viewed related to Euro-Australian
    cultural ideologies of wise use utilitarianism, stewardship, and conservation. The
    Ambivalent frame can be considered as relating to the liminal or inbetween state of the shrubby regrowth, innate and learned landscape preferences, and the typical EuroAustralian mindset of dominion over nature. The Ambivalent frame suggested that the research captured the active social construction of meaning about the regrowth as it was occurring, and that there appears to be an opportunity to actively influence or shape the dominant frames used by people in their views of the regrowth.

    This research yields valuable knowledge about how people attach symbolic
    meanings to changing environments. By understanding how people frame shrubby regrowth, the research provides a springboard for both extending learning, and for formulating culturally appropriate interventions to promote shrubby regrowth for biodiversity conservation. While grounded in the experiences and landscapes of South Eastern Australia, these insights could be helpful for understanding spontaneous vegetation occurring in other parts of Australia, and internationally.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Charles Sturt University
    • Allan, Catherine, Principal Supervisor
    • Thwaites, Rik, Co-Supervisor
    Award date13 Nov 2014
    Place of PublicationAustralia
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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