By Lucy J. Archer; Helen S. Müller; Lizzie P. Jones; Heidi Ma; Rosalind A. Gleave; Aline da Silva Cerqueira; Thalassa McMurdo Hamilton and Yara Shennan-Farpón
The success of biodiversity conservation is fundamentally reliant on the inclusion and participation
of diverse groups of people. In 2020, the Black Lives Matter Movement gained international
attention and prompted critical reflection of the systemic discrimination of disadvantaged groups
across many domains of society. It led us, as early-career researchers in conservation science, to
examine our own awareness of ongoing injustices within our own field, and the role we play
in perpetuating or countering them. Through this exploration, we realised we lacked depth in our
knowledge and understanding of conservation’s history, despite many collective years of academic
training, and we had failed to adequately consider its impacts on the present day.
In this perspective piece, we reflect on conservation’s colonial past and the power dynamics
throughout the history of scientific research that have left a long-lasting legacy of inequality, which
continues to negatively influence conservation science and practice today. We critically examine our
own education and professional experiences across a range of countries and social contexts and
identify the consequences of practicing conservation with limited understanding of conservation’s
history or key theories from other fields (for example, unequal power dynamics, the dominance of
Western scientific thinking and the disproportionate weight that privileged, and predominantly
white, scientific and charitable institutions hold in conservation decision-making). To catalyse more
proactive changes in this sector, we offer suggestions for ways forward to change the conversation
and promote reflexivity and ethical approaches. We hope to encourage other early-career
researchers to seek a better understanding of the history and ethical components of our work, key
theories from other fields, and diverse knowledge systems.
Our goal is to inspire constructive dialogue and seek creative solutions together within and beyond
the conservation science community. We encourage others to also take on the responsibility to
learn, carry out, and teach fairer and more inclusive conservation practices.