Using game theory for understanding and managing conservation conflict

Chris’s PhD research uses frameworks from common-pool resource literature and game theory to explore conflict over goose numbers in the Scottish islands.


Several populations of wild geese in Scotland have risen from historic lows in the mid-twentieth century, writing a conservation success story of better habitat protection and curbed persecution. However, the growing numbers of these species, primarily greylag (Anser anser) and barnacle (Branta leucopsis) geese, have increasingly impacted farmers on whose land the birds will graze. Pasture intended for livestock and arable crops destined for animal or human mouths can be destroyed quickly by the highly mobile geese which soon become accustomed to many scaring efforts.

Finding a balance between protection of the geese and protection of the crops causes a conservation conflict involving multiple parties; farmers, land managers, conservation organisations, wildfowl shooters, and the government. In an attempt to address the conflict in the most affected areas of Scotland, efforts involving coordinated scaring, culling and or compensation are being funded by the Scottish Government. Although most parties welcome the management efforts, disagreement remains on the intent, methods and success of the projects. Those involved make strategic decisions, taking into account what they perceive about stakeholders. Thus, interactions between and within these parties, are at the core of the conflict.

Growing numbers of geese have increasingly impacted farmers

Game theory is the study of strategic interactions, and various methods from this field can be applied to help understand how people in conservation conflict make their decisions. We are using frameworks from common-pool resource literature and practical games as bases for data collection from the field. We predict that seeing conservation conflict as a series of strategic interactions will shed new light on an ongoing issue and provide some novel actions for managing the conflict.


Chris Pollard


Nils Bunnefeld (University of Stirling)
Aidan Keane (University of Edinburgh)
Steve Redpath (University of Aberdeen)
Des Thompson (Scottish Natural Heritage)
Juliette Young (Centre for Ecology & Hydrology)




Pollard, C. R. J., Redpath, S., Bussière, L. F., Keane, A., Thompson, D. B. A., Young, J. C., & Bunnefeld, N. (2019). The impact of uncertainty on cooperation intent in a conservation conflict. The Journal of Applied Ecology, 56(5), 1278–1288.

Redpath, S. M., Keane, A., Andrén, H., Baynham-Herd, Z., Bunnefeld, N., Duthie, A. B., Frank, J., Garcia, C. A., Månsson, J., Nilsson, L., Pollard, C. R. J., Rakotonarivo, O. S., Salk, C. F., & Travers, H. (2018). Games as Tools to Address Conservation Conflicts. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 33(6), 415–426.