ArticlePDF Available
What is conservation?
In a recent Editorial in Conservation Biology, Michael Soulé,
a founding father of the discipline of Conservation Biology,
took issue with a group of scholars and practitioners who
have developed the so-called new conservation. He argued
that because [new conservations] goal is to supplant the
biological diversity-based model of traditional conservation
with something entirely different, namely an economic
growth-based or humanitarian movement, it does not de-
serve to be labelled conservation(Soulé, ). What is re-
markable about this statement is Soulés presumption that
there is a clear definition of what conservation is. As his art-
icle makes clear, he believes that conservation should be
about protecting nature for its own sake, and that a move-
ment that focuses on delivering benefits to people is there-
fore not conservation at all.
Some might see the debate about new conservation to
which Soulés article seeks to contribute as a sideshow
alongside the daily business of getting conservation work
done. Certainly the debate has been at times ill-tempered,
but it does serve to reveal an uncomfortable truth that lies
at the heart of the conservation movementnamely, that
there are profound disagreements about what conservation
is. This is more than just an academic question, because so
many of the choices that conservation entails about what to
conserve, where and how, grow out from how it is defined,
whether implicitly or explicitly. There is much disagreement
about all of these things within conservation, as demon-
strated by the debate about new conservation and earlier
disagreements about the proper relationship between con-
servation and development (Oates, ). These differences
are confirmed by empirical research into the values held by
conservationists (Sandbrook et al., ). Given this level of
disagreement it seems reasonable to ask whether there are
any shared characteristics that cut across all different
forms of conservation and, if so, what might the answer to
this question tell us about the future of the conservation
The Oxford English Dictionary defines conservation as
the action of conserving something. To unpack the word
conservingin this sentence, the dictionary provides two
relevant definitions of the verb to conserve: to protect
from harm or destructionand to prevent the wasteful over-
use of a resource. These points describe two important
themes in conservation thinking, and for some people the
implicit acceptance of sustainable use in the second of
these definitions is a defining feature of conservation that
distinguishes it from preservation, where the latter is fo-
cused on protecting areas of wilderness entirely free from
people (Sarkar, ; see Cronon, , for a critique of
the idea of wilderness). However, others see wilderness pres-
ervation as an important part of conservation, so this dis-
tinction is not universally recognized.
Most definitions of conservation provided by conserva-
tionists reflect their authorsparticular view of what conser-
vation ought to be. For example, Leader-Williams et al.
() define conservation as actions that directly enhance
the chances of habitats and species persisting in the wild.
This emphasizes habitats and species, and persistence in
the wild, which in turn suggest a particular set of actions in-
tended to achieve these goals. There is nothing wrong with
this definition, and many people who call themselves con-
servationists would agree with it. Others would not, how-
ever. For example, some are particularly concerned with
conserving the genetic diversity within single species of agri-
cultural crops, and others may not wish to limit their con-
cern to the wild. So the Leader-Williams et al. definition of
conservation, like Soulés and most others, describes a
branch of the conservation tree rather than the tree itself.
It is possible to engage in lengthy debates about the merits
or demerits of each definition (the new conservation litera-
ture is just such an example) but this does not help with the
broader task of identifying shared ground.
Given the diversity of perspectives on what conservation
is, it is necessary to take several steps back from the specifics
of conservation objectives and practice to find a definition
that might be acceptable to everybody. The broad definition
of conservation that I propose is: actions that are intended
to establish, improve or maintain good relations with na-
ture. This definition highlights the idea of conservation as
something that is active rather than passive (actions). It re-
cognizes that some conservation actions create new relation-
ships with nature (establish) whereas others build on
existing relationships (improve or maintain). At the same
time it recognizes that despite good intentions, not all con-
servation actions are successful (intended to). It captures the
positive intentions of conservation towards nature (good re-
lations), whilst leaving room for different perspectives on
what these relations might entail. Finally, it allows for di-
verse understandings of the entity with which these relations
are held (nature), which for some may include people and
even non-living geodiversity.
CHRIS SANDBROOK United Nations Environment Programme World
Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge, and Department of Geography,
University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
, 2015, 49(4), 565566 ©2015 Fauna & Flora International doi:10.1017/S0030605315000952
I feel this definition is broad enough to capture all things
that might be thought of as conservation (ranging from the
strict protection of national parks and the eradication of in-
vasive species right through to forms of farming and gar-
dening), and yet narrow enough to exclude things that are
done deliberately to harm nature. In this sense, it does its
job. However, it is certainly too broad to be used as the
basis for determining conservation priorities or actions.
This conclusion demands careful thought. If the conserva-
tion movement is so diverse that a definition of conservation
that suits everybody is this vague, is it useful to think of con-
servation as a single movement at all? Perhaps instead the
process of developing this definition demonstrates that con-
temporary conservation is not one thing but many, and that
there can be more that separates different conservations
from each other than binds them together.
Recognition of the diversity of conservation has two im-
portant implications for the future of the conservation
movement. Firstly, it challenges the view of those who
have argued for an end to internal debates over the meaning
of conservation in favour of a unified and diverse conserva-
tion ethic; one that recognizes and accepts all values of na-
ture, from intrinsic to instrumental, and welcomes all
philosophies justifying nature protection and restoration,
from ethical to economic, and from aesthetic to utilitarian
(Tallis & Lubchenco, ). This sounds good and might be
pragmatic when speaking to diverse audiences, but if con-
servation is not one thing but many then attempts to fold
them into a single movement under the banner of inclusivity
seem unrealistic in practice, and potentially stifling of debate
over what are real and meaningful differences of opinion.
Secondly, it raises the question of which version(s) of
conservation thinking different conservation organizations
and individuals actually subscribe to. It is remarkable that
so much energy has been invested in efforts to characterize
and champion particular forms of conservation without
asking conservationists themselves whether they recognize
these positions and/or agree with them. This is an area
ripe for further empirical research.
The new conservation debate has been a source of frus-
tration for many conservationists who see it as divisive and
dichotomizing. However, it highlights the fact that conser-
vation in the st century is such a broad movement that it
resists straightforward definition and is riddled with contra-
dictory values and viewpoints. Given this situation, it is
tempting to argue that the word conservation (with its back-
ward looking and conservative connotations) should be jet-
tisoned altogether. But it is a deeply embedded and widely
recognized label for those who care about nature, and
here to stay. Rather, it might make sense for those with
closely aligned values and preferred means of action to
come up with titles and definitions for their own form of
conservation. The resulting conservations would then fit
(sometimes uncomfortably) within the broader singular cat-
egory of conservation. In this vision conservation becomes a
forest rather than a single treea parliament not a
This might appear an admission of failure, as the ortho-
dox view has been that conservation is strengthened by pre-
senting a united front to the outside world because a
patchwork approach to conservation synergizes its ineffect-
iveness(Child, ). However, it could instead be seen as a
sign of maturity as conservation grows in scale and influ-
ence. In this vision, different (and sometimes contradictory)
perspectives could be promoted unashamedly by those who
support them rather than swept under the carpet. This
would make it easier for conservationists to identify who
they would, or would not, like to work with, and enable
niche forms of conservation to get on with their work with-
out worrying about undermining the integrity of the conser-
vation movement as a whole. There are many conservations,
and it is time to stop pretending otherwise.
I am grateful to Bill Adams and Martin Fisher for helpful
CHILD, M.F. () The Thoreau ideal as a unifying thread in the
conservation movement. Conservation Biology,,.
CRONON,W.() The trouble with wilderness: or, getting back to the
wrong nature. Environmental History,,.
LEADER-WILLIAMS, N., ADAMS, W.M. & SMITH, R.J. (eds) ()
Trade-offs in Conservation: Deciding What to Save. John Wiley &
Sons, Chichester, UK.
OATES,J.()Myth and Reality in the Rain Forest: How
Conservation Strategies are Failing in West Africa. University of
California Press, Berkley, USA.
plurality among conservation professionals. Conservation Biology,
SARKAR,S.() Wilderness preservation and biodiversity
conservationkeeping divergent goals distinct. BioScience,,
SOULÉ,M.() The New Conservation.Conservation Biology,,
TALLIS,H.&LUBCHENCO,J.() Working together: a call for
inclusive conservation. Nature,,.
566 Chris Sandbrook
, 2015, 49(4), 565566 ©2015 Fauna & Flora International doi:10.1017/S0030605315000952
... First, there is limited evidence outlining how these specific strategies are grounded in practice. Sandbrook (2015) warn that a "banner of inclusivity", could suppress debates (p. 566). ...
... 566). Meaning, inclusivity in itself does not resolve tensions, but has the potential to sugarcoat such processes (Sandbrook, 2015). Instead of opening up such conversations, this could instead depoliticize conservation debates (Cairns et al., 2013) and undermine democratic processes (Peterson et al., 2005). ...
Full-text available
Inclusive conservation is promoted as a means to integrate stakeholders in nature, conservation. Despite several studies recognizing that inclusive conservation of protected areas may be challenging and requires explicitly addressing potential tensions between stakeholders, little research has unpacked how these tensions manifest in specific contexts. This paper aims to explore possible approaches for navigating tensions to improve the facilitation of an inclusive conservation approach in the Utrechtse Heuvelrug National Park in the Netherlands. We conducted 18 semistructured interviews with stakeholders such as public and private landowners and, municipal and provincial governments in the national park. Results reveal a longer history of collaboration which still fails to address the root of the tensions. The experiences show that compromising or consensus building amongst stakeholders alone is not sufficient for achieving inclusive conservation. Guidance and clear goals set by policy, as well as sufficient investments in capacity and trust building are recommended to avoid inaction. Furthermore, we found that tensions are inextricably linked to different dimensions of power, such as discursive and structural power. While considering power in inclusive conservation can provide a realistic perspective we also, acknowledge that equalizing power is not the silver bullet underpinning this conservation approach.
... Conservation refers to protecting something or preventing wasteful use of a resource (Oxford English Dictionary n.d. ;Sandbrook 2015). Conservation actions may be aimed towards the protection of landscapes, such as forests or deserts, or conservation of particular species such as micro-organisms, plants or animals (Sandbrook 2015). ...
... ;Sandbrook 2015). Conservation actions may be aimed towards the protection of landscapes, such as forests or deserts, or conservation of particular species such as micro-organisms, plants or animals (Sandbrook 2015). This study will contribute to the anthropology of animal conservation through a study of the jaguar (Panthera onca). ...
... Indeed, wise use, as is conservation, may not be one thing but many; there can be more that separates these visions rather than binding them together. Any attempt to fold them into one vision may be potentially stifling real and meaningful differences (Sandbrook, 2015;Matulis and Moyer, 2017). ...
... A discussion of the debate between the old and the new conservation movement is not within the scope of this chapter, however, given the plethora of diffe ent perspectives on what conservation is, it felt appropriate to give a definition of conservation that responds to the objectives and practice of the CARE 1 project. We agree with the broad definition off ed by Sandbrook (2015) that conservation means "actions that are intended to establish, improve or maintain good relations with nature" (p. 565), as it captures all aspects of conservation from the strict environmental that sees to the sustainable management of the natural environment to the attention to the human, cultural, social and economic aspects of our world. ...
Full-text available
Arts have an important role in mitigating societal and other contemporary challenges through involvement in different forms of socially engaging arts (Raykov & Vella, 2021). Socially engaging arts, engage artists and citizens in creating a kind of collective art that affects the public sphere in a profound and meaningful way (Helguera, 2011). In this context activities are created and produced by and with the community members resulting to a sense of ownership, authorship, participation and accountability for the artwork (Cleveland, 2011) and build a learning context for raising public awareness of community issues that need to be addressed and can trigger actions that lead to solutions. The chapter focuses on socially engaging arts and how these can have a positive input in raising awareness and driving action for sustainable development and the SDGs
... Psychological distress indicates poor mental health, but it is not a mental illness. We considered conservation professionals an occupational group that intends to establish, improve, or maintain good relations with nature (Mieg, 2009;Sandbrook, 2015) (Appendix S1). We focused on working conditions as an area in which employers, funders, and others might effectively support conservationists' mental health. ...
Biodiversity conservation work can be challenging but rewarding, with potential consequences for conservationists' mental health. Yet, little is known about patterns of mental health among conservationists and its associated workplace protective and risk factors. A better understanding might help improve working conditions, supporting conservationists' job satisfaction, productivity, and engagement, while reducing costs from staff turnover, absenteeism, and presenteeism. We surveyed 2311 conservation professionals working across 122 countries, asking about experiences of psychological distress, working conditions, and personal characteristics. Over half were from and worked in Europe and North America, and most had university-level education, were in desk-based academic and practitioner roles, and responded in English. Heavy workload, job demands, and organizational instability were linked to higher distress, but job stability and satisfaction with one's contributions to conservation were associated with lower distress. Respondents with low dispositional and conservation-specific optimism, poor physical health, limited social support, women, and early-career professionals were most at risk in our sample. Our results flag important risk factors that employers could consider, though further research is needed among groups under-represented in our sample. We suggest ways employers and others might promote the positives and manage the risks of working in the sector, potentially supporting conservationists' mental health and abilities to protect nature. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
... Drawing on definitions by Sandbrook (2015) and Mieg (2009), we consider conservation professionals to be "an occupational group intending to establish, improve, or maintain good relations with nature" . The conservation sector spans diverse job roles and career paths; the challenges and rewards experienced in these different roles may vary significantly. ...
Full-text available
Workplaces can be sources of both stress and support, affecting employees' mental health and productivity. Yet, little research has investigated variability in workplace risk factors for poor mental health in conservation. We aimed to explore how patterns of psychological distress—a state of emotional disturbance—and associated workplace risk factors vary between conservation job roles. Working with three case study organizations in India, South Africa, and Cambodia, we surveyed 280 field‐based, office‐based, and research staff. Moderate or severe psychological distress was reported by 28.9%. Field‐based practitioners reported a greater imbalance between workplace efforts and rewards (0.35 standard deviation (SD), 95% credibility interval (CI) 0.03–0.67) than their colleagues, which was associated with greater psychological distress (0.24 SD, 95% CI 0.10–0.39). After controlling for this mediated relationship, researchers reported greater psychological distress than field‐based practitioners (0.37 SD, 95% CI 0.02–0.72). However, when accounting for all direct and indirect effects, there was no overall difference in distress between roles. Employers, funders, professional societies, and other institutions seeking to support conservationists' mental health should understand and offer support tailored to role‐specific challenges. Doing so might enhance conservationists' wellbeing while strengthening their ability to reverse global nature loss.
Full-text available
Values and motivations can shape natural resource management decision-making as individuals set conservation goals based on diverse, unique backgrounds, histories, and experiences. Recent literature points to the need to understand, evaluate, and articulate practitioner values to make explicit how experiences shape their work. Our research responds to calls to explore a diverse range of values and motivations among conservation practitioners. We used a qualitative approach grounded in phenomenology to advance an in-depth understanding of how conservation and stewardship practitioners experience, acknowledge, and make sense of conservation decision-making in Maine, USA. We interviewed 21 conservation and stewardship practitioners. Our results indicate the presence of complex value systems, including strong biospheric, altruistic, eudaimonic, as well as egoistic values. These values interact and intersect with motivations for participants’ careers in conservation in unique ways, driving participant actions and decision-making. Within Maine specifically, our results highlight the many areas for convergence of broad values among seemingly diverse groups that can inform opportunities for collaboration. Participants expressed various pathways to careers in conservation, where their work enables them to make a meaningful contribution to the environment and society. However in situations where personal and organizational values are misaligned, the role of organizational transparency, employee empowerment, and agency are key. Our results have implications for conservation groups seeking to achieve high employee satisfaction, as well as researchers, policymakers, and practitioners who hope to inspire individuals to take on conservation careers to create sustainable and transformative action for the future. Fostering early experiences in place, including interactions with the non-human world and local community, are important for influencing and reinforcing values and motivations for conservation action.
The most effective means of conserving species is incorporating the human factor in the conservation plan, a “win-win” ecology situation. In Africa, cultural and traditional heritages are highly respected because they are conservation tools and play a vital role in people’s daily lives. There is a strong acceptance of local cosmology, which believes in the potency of ancestral spirits and powers. Therefore, traditional laws can be used to protect sites with endangered species and would prevent the overexploitation and extinction of many species in the Niger Delta area. Sacred places can be established in localities that have endangered species across the region, such as the crocodile (Osteolaemis tetraspis) holy site in the Biseni and Osiama Kingdoms, which resulted over the years in the protection of thousands of this species from human hunting. If adequately documented, the protected areas can serve as conservation sites that become a tourist’s attraction to generate revenue for the local community. Therefore, this chapter uniquely provides examples of how local belief has been used to preserve forests and rivers in some Niger Delta communities.KeywordsAfrican religiousCultural beliefsHeritage sitesSpecies conservation strategies
This chapter identifies the rationale, justification, and significance of diverse conservation approaches as well as the challenges facing biological resources in Africa. It upholds that due to poverty and population growth, biological resources are experiencing accelerated depletion including within biodiversity hotspots. It sees conservation of biological resources as a proactive measure to guarantee continuous sustenance of life, by ensuring continuous availability, preserving the original nature of the ecosystem that supports them, avoiding shortage or wastage through indiscriminate use, ensuring food security for man, as well as a continuous source of income and employment for the present and future generations. The strategy for ensuring the sustainability of these vital resources is through effective and efficient in situ and ex-situ conservation methods, which can yield fruitful results. In situ methods preserve biological resources in their natural environment at a cheaper rate and provide opportunities for evolution. Ex-situ conservation preserves endangered species and encourages their breeding and multiplication in captivity. Long-term preservation of seed banks, gene banks, and DNA molecules is currently trending, enhancing the availability of biological resources.KeywordsConservationBiological resourcesRationaleIn situ and ex-situCryopreservationAfrica
Full-text available
Heather Tallis, Jane Lubchenco and 238 co-signatories petition for an end to the infighting that is stalling progress in protecting the planet.
Full-text available
Debate on the values that underpin conservation science is rarely based on empirical analysis of the values conservation professionals actually hold. We used Q methodology to investigate the values held by international conservation professionals who attended the annual Student Conference in Conservation Science at the University of Cambridge (U.K.) in 2008 and 2009. The methodology offers a quantitative means of examining human subjectivity. It differs from standard opinion surveys in that individual respondents record the way they feel about statements relative to other statements, which forces them to focus their attention on the issues they believe are most important. The analysis extracts the diverse viewpoints of the respondents, and factor analysis is used to reduce the viewpoints to a smaller set of factors that reflect shared ways of thinking. The junior conservation professionals attending the conference did not share a unifying set of core values; rather, they held a complex series of ideas and a plurality of opinions about conservation and how it should be pursued. This diversity of values empirically challenges recent proposals for conservation professionals to unite behind a single philosophy. Attempts to forge an artificial consensus may be counterproductive to the overall goals conservation professionals are pursuing.
IntroductionPath dependence in conservation policyPolicy changeParks and narrative changeWhat factors encourage path dependence?Addressing path dependence in conservation policyReferences
This book demonstrates that trade-offs can be very important for conservationists. Its various chapters show how and why trade-offs are made, and why conservationists need to think very hard about what, if anything, to do about them. The book argues that conservationists must carefully weigh up, and be explicit about, the trade-offs that they make every day in deciding what to save. Key Features: Discusses the wider non-biological issues that surround making decisions about which species and biogeographic areas to prioritise for conservation. Focuses on questions such as: What are these wider issues that are influencing the decisions we make? What factors need to be included in our assessment of trade-offs? What package of information and issues do managers need to consider in making a rational decision? Who should make such decisions? Part of the Conservation Science and Practice book series. This volume is of interest to policy-makers, researchers, practitioners and postgraduate students who are concerned about making decisions that include recognition of trade-offs in conservation planning.