Research into Practice

Faroe Islands Get Local Perspectives on Land Use Conflicts with PPGIS

November 25, 2022
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The Arctic Hubs research project operates across 22 hubs, each of them at the intersection of several conflicting industries. In each hub, researchers study these conflicts in order to reach solutions collaboratively — together with local residents and stakeholders.

In the Faroe Islands, aquaculture is a huge industry — alongside an emerging tourism industry. In the Faroes, the island of Suðuroy is the project hub led by Ragnheiður Bogadóttir, Associate Professor in Social Sciences at the University of Faroe Islands.

In her interview with Maptionnaire (also a member of ArcticHubs), Ragnheiður discusses the first study from the Faroe Islands on how residents perceive economical, social, and environmental changes brought by these two global industries.

Read on to learn how Maptionnaire’s Public Participation GIS and community engagement platform can help researchers, local  administrators, and residents better understand problems and resolve them together.                    

Ragnheiður Bogadóttir, Arctic Hubs project
Ragnheiður Bogadóttir, Associate Professor in Social Sciences at the University of Faroe Islands                      

Conflicts over Resource Use on the Faroe Islands

Aquaculture and fishing 

Aquaculture has rapidly expanded on the Faroes in the past 20 years, and almost all fjords are occupied by open-net fish pens. As a result, other types of economic activities that were traditionally carried out in the fjords are displaced. For example, local household fishing or small-scale lobster fisheries can’t be carried out  as before because they are not allowed to go into the fjord near salmon nets.

What’s more, the expansion of industrial fish farming, especially salmon farming, requires extensive land and energy use. So both land and water resource usage are at stake. 

Tourism and land access

The growth of the tourism industry has resulted in another visible conflict in Faroese society which revolves around access to nature and the socalled freedom to roam. Nature tourism is the main form of tourism in the Faroes, and tourists arrive on the islands mainly to hike and to experience local culture and nature. 

Even a few decades ago it was not a problem — there were not that many people wanting to access certain natural sites, be they in public or private ownership. But as the number of tourists has increased, this conflict over land use has become more evident and has made it to the agenda of the past two governments.

Getting Local Perspectives on the Conflict with PPGIS 

The Suðuroy hub explores exactly these types of economic, social, and environmental conflicts, which arise in the wake of large global industries such as fish farming and tourism.

While there are definitely global and regional perspectives on these disputes over resource use, ArcicHubs is also interested in getting the local perspective. One of the methods used in the ArcitcHubs project — Public Participation GIS (PPGIS) provided by Maptionnaire — helps researchers understand exactly these local perceptions

Maptionnaire gives a precise location to human experiences — be it perceptions, ideas, memories, or emotions. In practice, locals and stakeholders fill in a map-based survey made with Maptionnaire where they can easily mark conflicting areas on a map and add their comments. As a result, each question is visualized and given a spatial dimension. This makes the resulting data more specific and actionable for researchers and policymakers.

Learnings from The First PPGIS Survey 

The first pilot study of how locals perceive the land use dilemmas and environmental changes that tourism and fish farming entail was conducted in Suðuroy — the southernmost island of the Faroes where both aquaculture and tourism are rapidly expanding. Suðuroy is also an interesting study location because it is not connected by road to any other island, making the question of transportation and access to land even more acute.

This PPGIS survey was intentionally made of open questions so that local residents would not have any already-made answers. It was also important for researchers to keep the survey fully anonymous to encourage locals to freely express their values about these sensitive and conflicting issues. Respondents could mark on a map, for instance, a point or an area where they see the environment changing and whether they feel it is good or bad.

The pilot PPGIS survey from Suðuroy
The pilot PPGIS survey from Suðuroy
The pilot PPGIS survey from Suðuroy

Especially when the goal is to achieve a collaborative solution with locals and stakeholders, it’s crucial not only to take data from the residents but also to share the results and involve them in a continuous discussion.

The survey was spread through local tourist offices and municipal authorities, who in their turn shared the link via their social media channels. Researchers are quite satisfied with the response rates and the resulting data since most of the answers were exactly about land use conflicts.

For example, a place was marked with the comment “this is not a good place to fish anymore,” which clearly points to the environmental and economic changes brought about by industrial fish farming. Another common type of response points at a specific trail or area because it is overused by walking, which most probably is linked to the increased number of tourists.   

Next Project: Engaging The Youth

Although the pilot study was successful, one thing was missing — the opinions of the youth. Since fish farming and tourism are yet emerging industries, their influence will only increase in the years to come. So it is imperative to get the perspective of the younger generations on these conflicts. And youth involvement will be the focus of the next PPGIS study, which the ArcticHubs team envisions being more interactive and exciting. 

     “Especially when it comes to engaging the young people, Maptionnaire is the most appropriate tool to use. It’s a very efficient way to gather data and anyone can fill in a Maptionnaire survey on their phones or laptops.”    

— Ragnheiður Bogadóttir, Associate Professor in Social Sciences at the University of Faroe Islands

 This time, it will be an interactive PPGIS study. The research team will organize an event in a school in Suðuroy, where students will fill in the survey on the spot and then discuss its results together. With Maptionnaire, researchers can immediately visualize the survey results to stimulate the conversation. 

The survey will be designed to capture the youth’s perceptions of their current land use practices and of the emerging industries studied at ArcticHubs. The survey is meant to be rather short so that students can quickly fill it in and still have enough time for follow-up discussions. From this study, researchers hope to get not only data on perceived values but also more in-depth feedback related to the results. 

A similar PPGIS study at schools has already been done by the ArcticHubs team in the Westfjords, Iceland. Likewise, the pilot study from the Westfjords didn’t attract that many children and teenagers as it was distributed exclusively through municipal channels where the youth don't hang out. And to capture young voices, the researchers created a follow-up study in schools where they got an enthusiastic response. 

     “Now that we’ve used Maptionnaire once, the possibilities and potential are clear.”    

— Ragnheiður Bogadóttir, Associate Professor in Social Sciences at the University of Faroe Islands

 Overall, Maptionnaire’s PPGIS platform proved efficient for analyzing perceived values and working towards common conflict resolution goals. The tool can be used in synchronous and asynchronous settings, and its mapping functionalities are essential for land use studies. 

Within the ArcticHubs project, Maptionnaire has also been used in Varangerfjord for measuring public opinion on tourism and aquaculture (quite similar to the Faroe Islands case).

It is important to note that designing a good survey is not the end goal but only one of the first steps. And the survey won’t yield satisfying resulting data without an outreach plan. What’s more, the results of any survey or PPGIS study should be shared with the locals and stakeholders to maintain cooperation and transparency — to make the research impactful and relevant. 

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