What are the effects of stakeholder empowerment on the common crane population and agricultural production?

Earlier this month, we received the excellent news that our manuscript “Effects of stakeholder empowerment on crane population and agricultural production” was accepted for publication in Ecological Modelling.

Nilsson, L., Bunnefeld, N., Minderman, J., & Duthie, A. B. (2021). Effects of stakeholder empowerment on crane population and agricultural production. Ecological Modelling, 440, 109396. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2020.109396

Here, lead author Lovisa Nilsson gives a summary of the background and key results from the study.

Conservation conflicts are increasing globally

Conflicts between opposing objectives of wildlife conservation and agriculture are increasing globally due to rising human food production and competition with wildlife over land use. Conservation conflicts are often complex and driven by variability and uncertainty in wildlife distribution and stakeholder wealth and power. To manage conflicts, empowering local stakeholders by decentralizing decisions and actions has been suggested to promote democratization and awareness of stakeholders. There is, however, a current gap in the understanding of how stakeholder empowerment (e.g., farmers’ and managers’ practical, time or monetary resources) affects policy effectiveness.

Will empowerment of farmers have an effect on crane population and agricultural production?

In this study, we applied an individual-based model of management strategy evaluation (GMSE) to simulate the conservation conflict surrounding protected and thriving common cranes (Grus grus) causing damage to agricultural production in Sweden and along the European flyways. We model the effect of farmer empowerment (i.e., increasing budgets or ability to perform actions to affect populations and agricultural production) in four management scenarios, in which we manipulate the availability and cost of two actions farmers may take in response to crane presence on their land: non-lethal (scaring) or lethal (culling) control.

Empowerment of farmers and culling strategies needs careful consideration

We found that very low levels of farmer budget (i.e., limited ability to perform actions) led to increases in the population because farmers chose scaring as a less budget demanding action, which helped individual farmers by scaring birds off their land, but led to high population size across all farms. On the contrary, when culling was allowed, very high farmer budgets led to high extinction risk of the staging site population (up to 22.5 % in year 2024). Intermediate budgets allowed farmers to control the population size around the management target and kept the impact on agricultural production to intermediate levels.

A potato crop with flags to deter cranes. Photo: Johan Månsson

What are the management implications?

In terms of management implications, we found that the specifics of the quota system set by the manager will have an effect on population size, such that culling quotas of a limited number of cranes to all individual farmers may be an approach to increase equitable distribution of individual power. Our study illustrates that given the large crane population size and if licensed culling would be permitted, extensive stakeholder effort would be needed to reduce the population to a lower management target (e.g., >25 culled cranes/farmer year 2024), but at the same time that the total number of licenses to cull cranes needs to be carefully considered to maintain population sustainability. Ways to increase the possibility for farmers to take actions, could include compensation schemes for farmers to pay for labour connected to culling or scaring, provision of scaring devices, decoys or hides for culling, and coordination and help by scaring consultants.


To conclude, modelling the interaction between two stakeholder groups with potentially opposing views, highlights the complexity, potential and risks of stakeholder empowerment. Stakeholder empowerment and culling strategies needs careful consideration and monitoring when setting population targets and decentralized policy. Not providing stakeholders with power to enact actions may lead to frustration, ineffective management and risk of conflict; whereas unlimited power may cause conflicts when farmer objectives override management objectives. Collaboration between authorities and stakeholders to carefully manage the sensitive trade-off between wildlife conservation and agriculture may so enhance democratization and trust between parties and help to manage conservation conflicts.