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Leys, AJ 2010, 'Social learning for resolving community conflict over land-use change to plantation forestry', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright AJ Leys 2010


This thesis examines social, economic, political and environmental challenges resulting from the conversion of agricultural land to hardwood forestry plantations for a sub-tropical region of Australia, notably the Upper Clarence catchment in north-eastern NSW. The conversion of agricultural land in the catchment to hardwood forestry plantations was an example of land-use change. This change has implications for natural resource management as a whole, as new operational and management practices impact differently on local ecosystems and communities. One of the aims of this study was to quantify these impacts and examine alternative management scenarios for increasing sustainability outcomes at the landscape and community scale between competing land-users.

A systematic methodology was developed for a social learning process within an adaptive co-management framework for overcoming limitations to previous top-down governance mechanisms for natural resources. Social learning allowed deliberation over objective data and the development of a shared understanding of issues concerning the local community relating to reafforestation. Diagnostic and evaluation frameworks were developed through an action research methodology for mobilising social capital into the social learning process for contributing to adaptive co-management of natural resources. Potential values of the plantation forestry industry were identified by participants to assist in future community development that promote rural industry sustainability and improved economic prospects. The effectiveness of social learning was tested as an innovative participatory learning strategy for collaboratively resolving stakeholder concerns and reducing conflict.

The key findings of the study were (1) stakeholders with diverse experiences and views were able to develop a shared understanding of the socio-ecological and economic system dynamics of plantation forestry through participation in a social learning study; (2) the social learning study generated a change in attitudes in participants towards the plantation forestry industry for greater support, and empowerment to enter discussions over governance and operational issues; (3) participatory modelling was a useful tool for the research modeller to collate data and generate initial discussions, however its overall effectiveness as a tool was limited due to lack of engagement by participants to learn these modelling techniques; (4) bottom-up community based mechanisms offer promise in sustainable landscape governance of natural resources as opposed to traditional top-down measures from government. This is through using collaborative learning to create change in attitudes and value systems that generate increased social and environmental ethics and an awareness of need for adaptive change; (5) the social learning study offered an effective platform for involving local participants in the development of a set of criteria with facilitating researchers to evaluate the success of the study; and (6) the current federal policy for managed investment scheme (MIS) retail forestry has created market distortions, whereby there is the need to develop new transformative policy measures based on productivity and performance targets, and improved environmental and social outcomes for rural communities.

This thesis presents an innovative model framework in the form of a systematic methodology for social learning to provide guidelines that support the operation of more widespread community-based learning processes. It is based on a critical reflection of this iterative and reflexive participatory case study of the plantation forestry industry, together with findings in literature that assist in conflict resolution over natural resource management issues relating to land-use change. The model framework encompassed the strategic use of social research methodologies to elicit local and expert knowledge at suitable leverage points in the process to add to current debates. It provides useful guidelines for setting up an independent research team by a bridging organisation, in this case a research institution, for facilitating learning process that links science and community for transformational environmental education.