My article in The Field was one of the toughest pieces I’ve written to date. Does an unhealthy thirst for adversarial positions feed conflicts in conservation? It is now time to recognise these tensions and channel their energy towards a reconciliation of different interests.
Pitching the proposal was hard enough. Editors commission stuff that keeps their audience coming back for more: to entertain, to reinforce views, to challenge (but not too close to the bone please) and sometimes, though too rarely, to provoke. It’s a tricky call for media editors – whether pursuing ratings to fill the ‘warm-bath hour‘ or selling magazines to partisan readers – to stay ahead of the competition.
Shooting Times…The Ecologist…we lean towards ‘tribal instincts that trump the careful weighing of facts’
Wildlife conservation is not above this competitive streak. It must compete for funds to complete projects that enhance the environment – without too much concern for the human dimension of conservation. They can fight their corner, while we paint ourselves into our corner. Alarm bells should be ringing. Reference to ‘them and us’ and the word ‘fight’ all flag up potentially tense human interactions that can turn into entrenched positions with very little positive outcome for either wildlife conservation or human livelihoods.
Rather than acknowledge the various human interests, we seek to be lead by just natural science providing definitive answers to complex and seemingly intractable issues from fracking (gas) to hacking (harriers). We take sides to defend our values, rather than weigh up all the evidence to make rational decisions for the wider public benefit.
There’s a good book (What works in conservation) which gives the green light to feeding, hatching and translocating raptors: but in the anthroposcene world in which wildlife coexists with humans (others will argue visa versa), an intervention involving raptors for a specific reason is threatened with a red light.
The key word in the title of the book reviewed ‘Conflicts in Conservation: navigating towards solutions‘ is the fourth one. How brave it would be if we put down our ‘weapons of destructive impasse’ to endorse strong, unbiased, independent leaders to utilise tools in non-judgemental neutral spaces to enable willing parties to navigate – informed by natural and social sciences and local knowledge – a way out of these conflicts.