It is forecast that, in the coming years, agriculture and forestry throughout Europe will decline further (Eissing 2002). This means that many areas that are exploited at present will no longer be used and parts of these areas will be taken over by wilderness. Since experts cannot agree on what consequences this development will have, for example, for species diversity, we believe it is important to find out what kinds of attitudes the general public have to wilderness spread and to a passive form of nature conservation with a “wait and see” approach and no direct interventions. We explore the questions: What is the reasoning behind the different stances taken on wilderness and its spread, and what points of view are involved in evaluations of wilderness spread? In addition, we are trying to find out what kinds of perceptions of wilderness are widespread, what the general public want from wilderness areas and what the implications of the findings are for selecting new wilderness conservation areas.
Since there have been only a few studies of people’s attitudes to the spread of wilderness, we chose a two-phase research design, consisting of an initial inductive phase that was used as the basis for the following deductive phase. The methodological goal of the exploratory inductive project phase was to develop hypotheses to be tested in a representative survey in Switzerland. The following section describes this exploratory data collection and generation phase, which was based on qualitative interviews. Further below, we describe the procedure used in the representative questionnaire survey.