UCL Anthropology


Thomas Fry

UCL Email: thomas.fry.16@ucl.ac.uk
Year of Start: 2016
Supervisors: Katherine Homewood; Rosaleen Duffy (Sheffield)
Subject: Political ecology; Social anthropology; Rural Studies
Fieldsite: Isle of Skye, Scottish Highlands

PhD Research

The socio-political dimensions of rewilded eagles on the Isle of Skye, Scotland

Rewilding in Europe is often targeted in upland areas, and is commonly linked with large-levels of agricultural abandonment amongst traditional food-production systems. In the Scottish Highlands rewilding has been associated with an increasing prevalence of species reintroduction initiatives, and can be positioned within a broader move towards a post-productivist countryside based around tourism and conservation. However, ideas of a Scottish ‘wild’ can undermine and conflict with still enduring food-production landscapes which privilege customary land-uses, most significantly crofting, a form of traditional small-scale hill farming practised in the Highlands. Changes in markets and subsidy regimes have increased declines in livestock farming, accelerating the processes of agricultural land abandonment associated with rewilding. For many communities in the uplands there is as strong desire to revitalise local communities and economies through greater control of land and natural resources, and to maintain an agrarian focus in land-use and rural development. Visions of a wild, unpeopled and un-worked land can sit uncomfortably with these alternative ideas of future landscapes.

This research takes as a case study the reintroduction of the white-tailed eagle in the Scottish Highlands, focusing on crofting and farming communities on the Isle of Skye. Following the first successful nesting of the birds in 1985 reintroduced white-tailed eagles are now strongly established in the region. Local crofters face increasing predation of lambs, and significant human-wildlife conflict is occurring, but at the same time the eagles are being attributed to rising income from tourism. This project seeks to understand the tension between these farming systems and rewilding through analysing the direct impacts of predation on crofters’ livestock, and the socio-political and cultural dimensions that shape crofting communities’ views of and engagement with these birds, and conservation and rewilding more broadly. Drawing from my own experience working on issues of agro-pastoralism, natural resource management and rural development in my career in the international development sector, and my own inter-disciplinary academic background, this project seeks to situate rewilding within the complex inter-relations between structural political-economic change, localised sociocultural relations with nature and approaches to conservation management. The research utilises largely social methods, primarily semi-structured interviews and participant observation, as well as agricultural census data, and draws conceptually from political-ecology, rural studies and social anthropology approaches to socio-natural relations, ideas of wildness and agrarian transformation.  

Research Interests

  • Rewilding, ecological restoration and species reintroductions
  • Agrarian transitions
  • Rural development, land use and rural livelihoods
  • Human-wildlife conflict and co-existence
  • Landscape change

Education History

  • BSc Politics and English Literature (University of York)
  • MSc International Relations (University of Cape Town)
  • MSc Research for Development (SOAS)