What is Conservation?2022-05-30T09:45:19+00:00

What is Conservation?

Tess Gatan Balbas, Mabuwaya Foundation. Image © Merlijn Van Weerd
Home-Conserving nature-What is Conservation?

Our Director of Strategic Conservation, Dr Simon Stuart, explores what nature conservation really means, trying to keep a balance between, on the one hand, clarity to a non-specialist audience, and on the other hand, not shying away from some of the most difficult and challenging issues.

What is conservation?

It’s obvious isn’t it? It’s all about saving nature; trying to keep all the beautiful places, species and habitats – in short, the wonders of the natural world – on this Earth.

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines conservation as “protection of plants and animals, natural areas”.

One of the earliest attempts within the conservation community to grapple with the meaning of conservation can be found in The World Conservation Strategy published by IUCN in 1980. Here the objectives of conservation are given as follows:

  1. To maintain essential ecological processes and life support systems
  2. To preserve genetic diversity, and
  3. To ensure the sustainable utilisation of species and ecosystems

We could go into a long, academic discussion of the different definitions of conservation, but that is not our purpose here. The general, popular understanding of conservation is indeed well understood. And yet there are some problems, particularly in defining what conservation does and does not include.

What’s in and what’s out?

Although the term conservation might seem to be well defined, conservationists have struggled over what it does and does not include. Six issues stand out: