Engagement in conservation: beyond ladders of participation

Gabion men BW

Conservationists everywhere are realizing that going it alone is not an option: we need the energy and contributions from civil society role players. Besides, conservation is everyone’s business – not just ours. If we broaden our perspective of what conservation really is, we observe conservation stewardship everywhere: on urban rooftops where bees are being kept, in city parks where birdlife is being encouraged to flourish, in locally initiated invasive species management programs. Sacred pools and sacred groves have been protected by local and indigenous people for thousands of years, as have ancient strains of crops and livestock. Protected areas are only a small fraction of the conservation landscape. If we really want to look after the planet we need to do so collaboratively and with unusual groups and individuals.

For collaboration to be effective we have to engage, (i.e. involve others in decisions that might affect them) in ways that work for everyone. Yet it is in this engagement space where collaborative conservation either succeeds or fails. Failure is common because there are many vested interests, different stakeholders have multiple and often clashing aims, power is unequal and everyone tries their very best to achieve their own goals. Engaging with local role players in conservation is tricky, yet can be rewarding and have great impact when it succeeds.

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