Conservation summit shares stories of progress usually ‘overshadowed by negativity’

While acknowledging the huge challenges facing our planet, a new summit taking place in London this week is sharing stories of conservation success. Could it help us learn from both success and failure and move forward?

More than half of the world’s wildlife has disappeared in the past 40 years. For anybody even slightly interested in conservation, this fact is unavoidable and stark. But at the same time, traditional ‘doom and gloom’ messages about the state of the Earth simply don’t seem to be working.

In response, the idea for the Conservation Optimism Summit was born. Organised by the University of Oxford’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science (ICCS), the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the three-day event in London this week will see more than 250 attendees from around the world – from researchers and psychologists, to journalists – share success stories from the field.

Organisers are keen to emphasise the need for positive stories about conservation, not blind optimism, but examples of what is working well, as well as the terrible losses that are much more frequently discussed in the media. One of the organisers, Carlyn Samuel, hopes the summit will not only inform attendees, but inspire more people to work in conservation.

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“All of the stories in the world about saving the planet, conservation and renewable energy – it’s all doom and gloom,” said Samuel, a research coordinator at ICCS. “That’s what we hear everywhere. A lot of people avoid entering into conservation because they don’t feel inspired. Yes, there are those days, but we do have successes too, we do have ‘wins’, and we need to inspire people to carry on the fight.

We do have successes too, we do have ‘wins’, and we need to inspire people to carry on the fight

“The summit will hear people’s stories of success and what we can learn from how they got there, but also about any failures we can learn from. Conservation is too often seen as a crisis discipline, in which bad news predominates. Although nature is facing huge challenges, there are many positive stories out there where conservation has made a difference to people’s lives and to the status of wild nature.”

Among the projects already discussed include the WWF’s ‘soy moratorium’ – a campaign that encouraged private sector companies in Brazil to voluntarily reduce soy production that was linked to deforestation. A project by UK-based charity A Rocha helped transform the ‘Minet tip’ in Southall, London, from a heavily polluted, degraded space into a diverse country park – run entirely by its community members.

Budding and perennial conservationists need to feel inspired and continue in the profession, not put off by pessimism, goes the organisers’ theory. And the public, businesses and government need to know that their actions can make a difference. The summit aims to reframe the conservation movement by celebrating positive thinking in conservation, and plotting a potential route toward an ‘optimistic and forward-thinking future’.

Conservation is too often seen as a crisis discipline, one in which bad news predominates

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, environmental campaigner and TV chef, is among those supporting the approach. He said: “I’m lucky enough to have the medium of television to discuss and investigate environmental issues that I think are important. One thing I’ve learned is how important it is to present positive solutions and to keep hope alive, as well as educating audiences about the problems facing the world.

“I’ve met so many people doing fantastic work to protect and restore our natural world. We should be sharing these inspiring stories far and wide, rather than always getting bogged down in doom and gloom.”

“There is already a real sense that people’s’ batteries are being charged,” said Samuel, speaking to Positive News on the first day of the summit.

The Conservation Optimism Summit takes place from 20-22 April at Dulwich College and ZSL London Zoo.

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