The inductive-explorative phase led to the formulation of numerous hypotheses and questions that could then be explored in the representative questionnaire survey in Switzerland.
In the multiple-choice questionnaire respondents were asked, among other things, how often they spent time outdoors in “nature”, what they did outdoors, and what their attitudes toward nature and landscape, as well as toward the spread of wilderness were. In addition, they were asked about how they defined wilderness both in general terms and in connection with different types of natural landscapes. There were also questions about what they thought the most important characteristics of wilderness areas were, what they would like these areas to look like and how they would like them to be managed. The most important demographic data were recorded at the end of the questionnaire.
The random sample
The questionnaire was sent to 4,000 randomly selected households throughout Switzerland. The first person over the age of sixteen in the household to have a birthday in the year was asked to complete the questionnaire. This selection procedure was intended to ensure that the questionnaire was completed by the same number of women as men, and that all age groups were equally represented.
Of the 4,000 questionnaires sent out, 182 were undeliverable, and 1,536 were returned completed for an actual response rate of 40.23%. The main demographic data from the survey and the comparable data from the official national statistics are shown in Table 2.
The characteristics of the respondents were found to deviate slightly from the official national statistics. Women, with a response rate of 43.3%, were slightly underrepresented in our survey. The age distribution was quite similar to that of the general population, with only the category of people under the age of 39 years being underrepresented. Foreigners, however, made up only 9% of the respondents, which is considerably less than in the wider population. It is possible that language difficulties could have acted as a barrier here. The questionnaire was distributed in the three official Swiss languages (German, French and Italian), and people who are not fluent in any of these languages would have found it difficult to complete the questionnaire.
Table 2. Comparison of central variables with the official national figures
Results of the interviews
In our evaluations of the interviews, we were able, as a result of the procedure described above, to isolate the key categories that appeared to have influenced people’s attitudes to the spread of wilderness and to new wilderness areas becoming established as well. The categories we identified were: beauty, contrast, diversity, usefulness, safety, past as a reference point and freedom from regulations (Fig. 2).
The interviews showed that what influences people most in deciding to favour or reject wilderness spread is not whether nature is “managed” or left untouched, but rather their subjective perceptions of beauty. The interviewees varied greatly in their evaluations of beauty. Some thought a forest left uncultivated lost beauty, whereas others found a landscape where humans had had little impact to be more beautiful.