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.

One Comment on “The Conservation Conversation: What type of conservationist are you?

  1. Hi there,
    Really interesting to read about how the group felt about the questionnaire. I completed it, and was a bit disappointed because I felt that it plotted me somewhere that didn’t seem to match my beliefs, but it sounds like you had similar experiences. The way the questions are asked leads you to give answers about the way things are, rather than the way you believe they should be. I’m sure I would have come out far more extreme otherwise, but maybe this is their intention…

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