Marine protection in the European Union
: how do social constructions of marine wilderness and nature influence policy?

  • Saso Gorjanc

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


Marine biodiversity is diminishing globally. Due to the extent and transboundary nature of the seas, effective conservation can best be achieved through international cooperation and policies. The European Union (EU) has developed some of the most stringent, but also complex marine environmental policy frameworks in the world. However, their implementation has remained inconsistent and poorly coordinated. The gravity of the biodiversity crisis requires better implementation of policy objectives, if current targets are to be achieved. While most previous research has focussed on provision of better data and on supporting coordination activities, this study focusses on the social constructions held by key actors involved in EU policy interpretation and implementation. The new generation of ambitious EU conservation targets often provokes contentious ideas linked to the resurgence of wilderness discourses. This study combined three major phases of research to understand these issues. Firstly, a combination of interviews, literature and EU policy analysis were used to explore how key EU policy actors perceive the concepts of marine nature and wilderness, what their personal policy priorities are and why. Secondly, a Q methodological study identified the prevailing social constructions among policy actors. Thirdly, the identified social constructions were subsequently explored and validated further in Living Q workshops with key actors representing all EU Regional Seas. The thesis explores the differing social constructions of marine wilderness and nature amongst policy actors, and how these shape and are shaped by EU policies designed to achieve strict or effective protection of marine nature. The research revealed six distinct social constructions, and considerable divergence between the discourses used in policy texts and those employed by the key actors. The influence of these six social constructions on the understandings of science-policy interfaces and policy implementation are discussed. The results highlight a considerable challenge for the future implementation of EU marine conservation policies, and the thesis argues that this underlying diversity of perceptions needs to be recognised and engaged with.
Date of Award14 Jun 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorTim Stojanovic (Supervisor) & Charles Raymond Warren (Supervisor)


  • EU
  • Wilderness
  • Policy
  • Social constructions
  • Biodiversity
  • Marine
  • Conservation

Access Status

  • Full text open

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