The Conservation Conversation: What type of conservationist are you?

April’s Conservation Conversation was inspired by the Future of Conservation Project. This joint project hosted by UN WCMC and including researchers from universities Cambridge, Leeds & Edinburgh looks to explore the views of conservationists across a range of issues. The rearchers wonder if current conservation science paradigms are actually monopolised by a few loud voices and the project aims to find out how the values of conservation scientists en masse, align with those voices or otherwise.

The researchers’ previous work (Holmes, Sandbrook & Fisher, 2016) grouped conservation scientists around subjective positions. This then informed the building of a web-based questionnaire which scores respondents on two parameters: Conservation & Capitalism and People & Nature. The website then helpfully plots these two scores (along with those of a bunch of other recent respondents) and places the user in one of four positions: New Conservationist, Traditional Conservationist, Market Biocentrist and, Critical Social Scientist. Full methods & detailed descriptions of each of these positions are available on the project website.


Figure 1 – Screen grab of Future of Conservation output plot. We’ve added in the four positions in each corner of the plot

Here at StiCS we asked our Conservation Conversationists to complete the questionnaire then come along with their lunch and discuss the aims, positions used and potential opportunities the resulting data could provide. We also had Tunnock’s Tea Cakes.

Here’s where our group ended up:


Figure 2 – beautiful MS paint version plotting the approx position of the Conservation Conversationists (we are professionally available for figure production)

Rather than concentrating on where we fell individually and collectively on the plot, our discussion turned in two other directions: How we felt we answered the questions; and the relationship between values and interventions.

How we answered the questions

We discussed how it was often difficult to decide whether to answer more aspirationally (this is how it should be) or more realistically (this is how it should be, given the circumstances). The questions seemed designed to be context neutral, but many of us found it hard to decouple our general views from real world examples. Bold ethical questions were not apparent in the questionnaire: would we prefer to keep a person alive for 1 year or save a thousand hectares of rainforest? This may well be an unrealistic choice but such a question could encourage deeper thinking about how we value nature and people on such a linear scale.

Values & interventions

Can certain interventions be mapped onto the four positions of conservationist? A carbon trading scheme such as EU ETS may clearly fall onto the top half of the plot, using capitalist tools to achieve a conservation objective. However, rewilding which may at first glance seem like a Traditional Conservationist movement, could equally attract those from other positions (Table 1).

Table 1 – How rewilding could fit in each of the conservationist position
New Conservationist

A rewilding enterprise financing facility, promoting the business case for investing in natural capital (European Commission, 2017)

Market Biocentrist

Rewilding paid for by a business as part of a biodiversity offset scheme managed to maximise returns for biodiversity (Maron et al., 2016)

Critical Social Scientist

An area for rewilding selected to maximise the ecosystem services it can provide (Cerqueira, et al, 2015)

Traditional Conservationist

An area for rewilding is selected to maximise returns for biodiversity

(Rewilding Europe)

Devisive / Inclusive

One can imagine that categorising individuals into defined positions could have both divisive and inclusive outcomes. Divisive, from building potentially opposing camps into which people feel they should choose one position over another. Inclusive, from a clarification of values which can be used to gain a meaningful appreciation of alternate viewpoints.

The Future of Conservation survey was a fascinating spark for our group to explore why we do conservation and subsequently, what we do for conservation. Those behind the project have thus achieved the goal of stimulating discussion! We at StiCS look forward to seeing the results which come out of the project, particularly how demographic characteristics (age, gender, geography, education) impact conservationist values.

We suspect this won’t be the last time that the Future of Conservation Project is discussed at the Conservation Conversation!


We weren’t the first group to blog about this project! Check out how the Conservation Science group at RMIT in Melbourne got on in their discussion, here.

The Conservation Conversation: Bite-size Brexit

Perspectives from Stirling Biological & Environmental Sciences on how Brexit may affect our research, and what we can do about it…


EU flag. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Biological and Environmental Sciences (BES) here at Stirling is full of international researchers and collaborations. Since the Brexit vote, there has been uncertainty over how we, as UK- and non-UK, EU- and non-EU nationals, will continue to work on EU-funded projects, begin new international collaborations, and remain as residents in the UK. Continue reading

Planet Earth II: why most animals can’t hack city living

Kirsty Park, University of Stirling

The grand finale of the BBC’s Planet Earth II showcased the ingenious strategies that some animals use to thrive in urban environments. Though impressive, these species are in the minority. As the number of people living in cities around the world continues to rise, we should really be turning our attention to those animals that find city living too hard to handle. Continue reading

Mosquito nets are often used for fishing. A smart response is needed

Emma Bush, University of Stirling and Rebecca Short, Zoological Society of London

mnf_man2The human race is extremely resourceful, particularly when resources are limited. Inevitably, when poor rural communities are given access to a new asset they will find a number of uses for them. Anti-malarial bednets – the fine-mesh nets used to protect people from mosquito bites while they sleep – are a good case in point.

Continue reading

Pesticide-related confusion in pollinators and politicians

By Penelope Whitehorn

“I arrived confused about this topic and I will leave as confused as ever.” This was the parting comment from the only MP in the room and not the outcome we were hoping for! The event was a scientific briefing about neonicotinoid pesticides and pollinators, organised by the Soil Association in a classy venue in Westminster. Unfortunately, such confusion seems typical of the political response to an issue that has generated passionate controversy in many other sections of society. Continue reading

Call for applications – ICN Workshop 2016

Applications now being received for the 2016 Interdisciplinary Conservation Network (ICN) workshop!

ICN 2016 flyer_updated

Date of workshop: 26-28 June 2016
Application deadline: 31 March 2016

The Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science (ICCS), Stirling Conservation Science (STI-CS) and the Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science (CBCS) are pleased to invite PhD students and early-career researchers in the field of conservation science to apply to participate in a three-day workshop to be held at the University of Oxford, UK.

The aim of this workshop is to provide early-career researchers with an opportunity to collaborate with other researchers from around the world, including leading figures in their field, and to learn key skills for the development of their careers.

More information about the workshop and how to apply is available here.