Conservation by conservation scientists?

This post is reblogged from the blog of the Society for Conservation Biology – Europe Section

By Irina Herzon

One more workshop on conservation approaches. One more time a chance to discuss what conservation science is about. And once again to ponder on how much space is there, in our science, for conservation.


It is certainly true and correct that scientific work is our major professional duty and providing evidence is its chief output. Regardless of scientific field, it is so. Amount of evidence is further what is rewarded by the employment system. And yet here we are people who came to conservation biology because of the genuine concern for conservation. If we are driven only by curiosity to understand the world or ambitions in publishing, then we might just remain biologists without “conservation”. If we chose to do just that, to stay aside from any conservation acting remaining in this “evidence gathering” state, we can hardly complain about not being heard or lament about biodiversity decline unravelling despite all the evidence. We trick ourselves into thinking that even more evidence will do the job of conservation.

If we acknowledge that conservation is more than evidence gathering, we have to find opportunities to take that next logical step and find better ways of really making ourselves heard. One has to step forward in defence of something that one considers important, dear and right. Biodiversity conservation is not much different from any other “better world” issues such as human rights. One can only wonder how much Martin Luther King Jr would have achieved if people around him had been thinking: “fighting slavery is not my job”. Whose job is to stop biodiversity demise then?

True, it is a serious obstacle that our professional academic system does not reward us for anything else except the number of publications. I hear this often being used as an excuse for focusing only on publications. But think of it, if we who are aware of the problem best and are concerned about it, keep only providing evidence, we are behaving exactly like farmers who do something for biodiversity only and as long as they are paid for it. Nor care about the end result. They need to survive as farmers and generate as much income from land as possible – we need to survive as scientists and generate as many publications as possible. No-one to blame!

A conservation biologist doesn’t have to be a professional advocate for conservation, but should be an advocate for conservation nonetheless. If true concern is there, we should actively search collaboration with advocates, authorities, media, land-users, or public. Collaborating by actively bringing out the evidence to them in a form that can be understood by them. If this activity is not supported by our job providers, then we should try to change this attitude at our workplaces.  Or use more of our personal time. But not to hide behind the words: “not my job”.

Actually many researchers in conservation biology do carry out a lot of active conservation. We just often restrain ourselves from speaking about this aloud, from sharing this kind of activity, its challenges, victories and failures. I would say, for a conservation biologist, it is as much a professional activity as doing science. Are we afraid of compromising our scientific credibility by engaging with society, or we are too shy to present this kind of work, beyond statistical testing, as meaningful? I think we should not! We should take pride in it and praise each other for it, and learn from each other on how to succeed best in “beyond evidence-gathering”. Maybe a session on Conservation by Conservation Biologists at the next ECCB?

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2 thoughts on “Conservation by conservation scientists?

    • Agree. I’d really like to see conservation biologists doing talks in their local schools. Same goes for other sustainability practitioners/academics. I think so long as you take it to the people in a way that is presenting the science objectively – rather than presenting on one specific topic because it is dear to your heart – you can be confident of avoiding being labelled as biased.

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