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Relationships to nature go both ways – care and attention for nature bring satisfaction and joy for Swiss Alpine farmers

Should we protect nature for its own sake or for people’s sake? In this paper we study a third kind of reason to protect nature – the relationships between people and nature. However, sustaining them requires physical, emotional, and socio-economic resources.

farmer and cow
Image: iStock/Halfpoint

These reasons for caring are called “relational values.” But what exactly are relational values and how do they work in practice? Previously, we proposed a theoretical model of relational values. In this paper, we show how that model works with the example of Swiss Alpine livestock farmers.

We conducted 32 qualitative interviews with farmers in the Lower Engadin and Münster Valleys of the Swiss Alps. We found that relational values go both ways. For example, farmers expressed the relational value of caring well for their livestock, such as cows, sheep, or horses. In our interviews, the farmers explained the importance of paying attention to their animals to make sure they were healthy. In return, they found joy in their relationship with their animals, knowing the animals trusted them. In this example, the animal benefits because farmers gave attention, respect and care. The farmers in turn received satisfaction, joy and practical benefits. We also found important relational values between hunters and wild animals and between farmers and the place they farm (the landscape, pastures, and communities in their valleys). We suggest that it is this two-way relationship, or “give-and-take,” which characterizes relational values and the relationships behind them – not only for farmers but for many kinds of people and their relational values.

The way we understand the two-way relationship between people and nature.
The figure shows the way we understand the two-way relationship between people and nature. The woven arrows highlight the ways that what we give and what we get in the relationship are deeply connected. The A and B refer to our theoretical model, where A is the person valuing and B is what is valued. The grey base of the figure means that these relationships require support to be strong and continue. Figure concept by Mollie Chapman with graphic design by Alana McPherson ( 

Importantly, we also found that the importance of relational values can be lost. Sustaining these valued relationships requires physical, emotional, and socio-economic resources. For example, if a farmer were sick, could not find joy in farm work or could not manage to make a living, then the quality of their relationship with the cows is lost. Relational values must be part of a lived experience and people need to be able to practice the care, attention and respect that sustain their relationships with nature, be it cows, deer or landscapes.


Chapman, M., & Deplazes-Zemp, A. (2022). ‘I owe it to the animals’: The bidirectionality of Swiss alpine farmers' relational values. People and Nature, 00, 1 –15. 

Mollie Chapman, Anna Deplazes-Zemp

Weiterführende Informationen


Dr. Mollie Chapman

Space, Nature and Society

Department of Geography, UZH

Tel.: +41 44 63 55186

Space, Nature and Society

URPP Global Change and Biodiversity