Understanding the farmer's view : perceptions of changing agriculture and the move to agri-environmental policies in southern Scotland
Although agri-environmental policies represent only a small part of the agricultural support system, they symbolise a major change in the direction of government policy. Consequently, the move from supporting farmers for food production to supporting them for looking after the environment, involves a significant change in the culture of farming. In this thesis, the way farmers gave meaning to the changes occurring in agriculture, and to the growing importance of conservation issues, was considered. An actor-oriented approach was used to theorise farmers' interpretations of the situation in agriculture. This approach acknowledged individuals as knowing, active subjects directing their lives, but the importance of external conditions in facilitating and constraining farmers' choices and interpretations was recognised. The research was carried out in southern Scotland, where farmers' perceptions of changing agriculture, in the light of the designation of the Southern Uplands Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) scheme, were examined. In-depth, qualitative interviews with farmers were the main source of data. Major themes in farmers' interpretations of the situation in agriculture were the uncertainty and growing bureaucracy in farming. Additionally, many farmers felt they were increasingly dependent on, and controlled by, the government. The changing role of farmers in society was of interest; many felt that the status of farmers had declined. Whereas previously the public depended on them for food production, now farmers were reliant on public support. Farmers' construction of conservation, their views of Nature, and the meanings they attached to conservation activities, were examined. Their perceptions of conservationists were found to influence interpretations of conservation.