Landscape features with differing values, depending upon your conservation viewpoint, along the River Swale in North Yorkshire, UK: biodiverse meadows, carbon sequestering woodlands, traditional pasture, and a water provisioning river. Photo by Charles Cunningham.

By Charles Cunningham, Humphrey Crick, Mike Morecroft, Chris Thomas, and Colin Beale.

Read the full paper here.

While those involved in biodiversity conservation tend to agree over their broad aims, there are often some important differences of opinion and perspectives on how to tackle these aims and the priorities conservationists should give to each. For example, some conservationists would prioritise the protection of rare species, while others would prioritise maintaining as much carbon as possible in ecosystems, or providing recreational opportunities that will increase human wellbeing. All of these priorities have merit, but there are trade-offs between them. It is important, therefore, to consider and balance different viewpoints within coherent plans that minimise any sense of unfairness and help to avoid future conflict. But how?  

We developed and tested different quantitative methods to balance opposing viewpoints on how to value nature. First, we created four simulated “caricatures” of what different conservationists might favour (based on studies from the social science literature) and then used numerical analyses (of where species, carbon and recreational values exist, for example) to identify how people with these different sets of values, within Britain, would prioritise protection. While there was some overlap, people with different viewpoints would often want to protect different parts of Britain. To reconcile these differences, we developed a new numerical method that represents a “pluralist approach” to join these viewpoints into a single plan. This approach ensured that all of the caricatures still ‘got most of what they wanted’ and prevented people from ignoring the ‘least supported’ (or ‘most unusual’) set of priorities, as might happen if priorities were simply weighted by the number of people who care about each. The analyses generated a coherent spatial conservation plan which appears to include different conservation values efficiently and satisfy all the different viewpoints quite well.

This new analytical method represents an important development in incorporating diverse viewpoints within conservation planning and provides a new tool to support decision making. Including this quantitative method within broader approaches to conservation decision-making (e.g. systematic planning frameworks) would facilitate the development of increasingly satisfactory compromise solutions through transparent engagement with stakeholders.