In this article, we seek to explore what conservation really is, 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.
To help the reader find her/himself around the article, we have the following sections:
- Introduction – definitions
- What’s in and what’s out? Exploring the debate on what does and does not count as conservation
- The ethics of conservation. Why do we want to conserve nature in the first place?
- But what exactly do conservationists need to do? What is conservation in practice, on the ground and in the water?
- But does conservation actually work? Exploring the evidence for conservation effectiveness.
- Synchronicity Earth’s take on some of the issues raised in the article.
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:
- To maintain essential ecological processes and life support systems
- To preserve genetic diversity, and
- To ensure the sustainable utilization 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.