Conservation and Nature+

Here is my editorial for a themed issue of Environmental Values, which is being published to correspond with the  IUCN World Conservation Congress (see


This themed issue has been published to coincide with the IUCN World Conservation Congress. This international conference is being held in Jeju, in the Republic of Korea, from 6th to the 15th of September 2012. The World Conservation Congress convenes every four years, and draws together key public officials, NGOs, UN agencies and representatives from the business world in order to ‘discuss, debate and decide solutions for the world’s most pressing environment and development issues’ (IUCN, 2012a). The theme of this year’s Congress is Nature +. According to the IUCN, the idea of Nature + ‘captures the fundamental importance of nature and its inherent link to every aspect of our lives’ (IUCN, 2012b: 2). In essence Nature + reflects a late modern culmination of the more ambitious, pro-active, and expansionist form of nature conservation that was famously envisaged within Bill Adams’s book Future Nature. Back in 1995, Adams described a brand of conservation that breached the narrow confines of nature reserves and national parts and influenced human action and decision-making in a range of landscapes. (Adams, 1995). Nature + conservation appears to go further than even Adams’s vision, and positions nature conservation as a potential remedy for a range of local and global socio-environmental problems. Consequently, whether it be about ecosystems services, organic food production, or biomedical research, Nature + is clearly a more confident brand of nature conservation, which no longer seeks justification in narrow preservationist terms, but instead suggests that there are nature-based solutions to the interconnected problems of climate change, food production, and economic development (IUCN, 2012: 2).

Although the papers in this themed issue do not explore the notion of Nature + in explicit terms, in offering critical analyses of different contemporary iterations of nature conservation, they provide valuable insights into the changing character of the conservation field.[1] Paulson et al (2012) present a paper of direct relevance to the IUCN’s congress in Jeju. Reporting on an ethnographic study of the last World Conservation Congress, which was held in Barcelona in 2008, Paulson et al consider the efforts that have been made by organizations, such as the IUCN, to enhance the ability of indigenous groups to participate within the decision-making processes that inform global forms of environmental conservation. The goal of a more participatory form of conservation goes back at least as far as the World Commission on Environment and Development (see WCED, 1987). In essence, participatory forms of conservation seek to both improve the efficacy of conservation measures, while also ensuring that they do not become a form of environmentally infused neo-colonialism (Agrawal 2005). More participatory forms of conservation are, however, an important component of the Nature + agenda. In such circumstances, the conservation of nature not only provides ecological services that are useful to humankind; it also offers a context for the reinvigoration of deliberate forms of democracy (Rydin and Pennington, 2000). Paulson et al’s study of the 2008 World Conservation Congress indicates that, while significant progress has been made in enhancing the participatory opportunities, of indigenous groups, enduring power structures continue to limit these forms of participation.

Building on the theme of indigenous participation in the conservation process, the second paper in this issue explores the agdal system of environmental management. Dominquez et al (2012) analyze the practices associated with this traditional agro-pastoral Berber system of communal natural resource management. This system is shown to support goals of economic development, environmental sustainability, and social cohesion. Dominquez et al illustrate the way in which traditional agricultural practices contain many of the features to which modern conservation paradigms aspire. At a, perhaps, deeper level, the agdal system reminds us of the respect for nature and social cohesion which human civilizations have some how lost (see Plumwood, 1993). To these ends, Dominquez et al’s paper reminds us that the quest for more holistic forms of conservation involves not only the deployment of new scientific perspectives, but also a more humble recognition of the value of past ways of engaging with the natural world.

The paper, by Welchman (2012) provides a critical re-evaluation of the notion of environmental stewardship. This has been a rationale that has strong associations with many modern conservation practises. Notions of environmental stewardship have, of course, been subject to critique from many working on questions of environmental ethics. Such work suggests that it represents a form of environmental chauvinism, which rather than engendering new registers of respect for nature reinforces human ascendency over the natural world.  Welchman argues that most moral objections to environmental stewardship are grounded on outdated theological and etymological assumption. In this context, she argues that actually existing practises of environmental stewardship reflect morally decent conduct towards nature. She further argues that the reengagement of environmental philosophers with questions of environmental stewardship could help to shape its ethical parameters in progressive ways.

Reed (2012) looks at issues of conservation from the perspective of the subjects of conservation policy. Focusing on the impacts of federal government policies for the relocation of wild horses, this paper considers the opportunities that are presented and closed-off by these land use policies. At the centre of Reed’s analysis is a desire to develop a non-anthropocentrically focused account of environmental management policies. Drawing on Martha Nussbaum’s capabilities approach, Reed assesses the impact that conservation through relocation policies have on the ability of wild horses to flourish. Reed’s approach is perhaps more akin to a Nature, than a Nature + perspective, to the extent that it is less concerned with what nature conservation gives to humans, and is instead interested in what may be lost from the capabilities of nature within the processes of conservation.

Glotzbach and Baumgärtner (2012) analyze the principles of justice that operate within practises of sustainability. Focusing specifically on key policies for nature conservation, they explore the principles of intra- and intergenerational justice. This exposes the underlying hypotheses that inform the ethical imperatives of sustainability. Exploring questions of independency, facilitation and rivalry, reveals the determinants that inform the construction of different forms of sustainable development policies.

Finally, Hiedanpää and Bromley (2012) present an approach to analysis of biodiversity policy that is forged at the interface of the pragmatism of Charles Sanders Peirce and the institutional economics of John R. Commons. They situate their analysis in the context of Finland’s biodiversity policy on Natural Values’ Trading, which uses a payment-based approach to ecosystem services in order to encourage rural conservation practises. Drawing on a Peircean semeiosis and the negotiational psychology of Commons, they consider the impact that the sign-process has on the development and application of conservation policy. In particular, they draw attention to the evolutionary and institutional processes that give rise to the differences that emerge between the goals conservation policy in principle and its actual delivery in the real world.

The delegates of the 2012 IUCN World Conservation Congress will soon be sitting down in Jeju to discuss the course of global conservation over the next four years. If conservation policies in the 21st Century are to be characterized by the ethos of what the IUCN have termed Nature +, they will need to consider a range of different perspectiveson the potential implications of policy formulations. Where better to start than reflecting upon the content of Environmental Values?

Mark Whitehead

Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences

Aberystwyth University



Adams, W,M. (1995) Future Nature: A Vision for Conservation (Routledge, London).

Agrawal, A. (2005) Environmentality: Technologies of Government and the Making of Subjects (Duke University Press, London).

Bhagwat, S.A (2009) ‘Ecosystem Services and Sacred Natural Sites: Reconciling

Material and Non-material Values in Nature Conservation’ Environmental Values 18: 417-427

Damodaran, A. (2007) ‘The Project Tiger Crisis in India: Moving Away from the Policy and Economics of Selectivity’Environmental Values 16 (2007): 61–77

Dominquez, P. Bourbouze, A. Demay, S. Didier, G. (2012) ‘Diverse ecological, economic and socio-cultural values of a traditional common natural resource management system in the Moroccan High Atlas: the Aït Ikiss tagdalts’  Environmental Values 21(3)

Glotzbach, S. and Baumgärtner, S.  (2012) ‚The Relationship between Intragenerational and Intergenerational Ecological Justice’ Environmental Values 21(3)

Hiedanpää, J. Bromley, D.W. (2012) ‘Contestations Over Biodiversity Protection: Considering Peircean Semeiosis’ Environmental Values 21(3)

IUCN (2012a) (accessed 14/5/12).

IUCN (2012b) IUCN World Conservation Congress 2012 Brochure (IUCN, Gland)

Paulson, N. Doolittle, A. Laudati, A. Welsh-Devine, M. and Pena, P. (2012)‘Indigenous Peoples Participation in Global Conservation: Looking Beyond headdresses and face paint’ Environmental Values 21(3)

Reed, C.M. (2012) ‘Enriching the Lives of Wild Horses: Designing Opportunities for Them to Flourish’ Environmental Values 21(3).

Rydin, Y. and Pennington, M. (2000) ‘Public participation and local environmental planning: the collective action problem and the potential of social capital’ Local Economy 5: 153-169.

WCED [World Commission on Environment and Development] (1987) Our Common Future (Oxford University Press, Oxford).

Welchman, J. (2012) ‘A Defense of Environmental Stewardship’ Environmental Values 21(3).

[1] These are themes that have been regularly discussed within the pages of this journal (see Bhagwat, 2009; Damodaran, 2007; Youatt, 2008).


About Mark J Whitehead

Professor of Geography at Aberystwyth University
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