As conservation scientists we need to collaborate and unite across disciplines, yet opportunities to do so are often limited. The Cambridge Student Conference on Conservation Science (SCCS), however, now in its 18th year, provides a venue for young conservationists to develop these connections. On 28–30 March 2017 in the University of Cambridge Zoology Department, SCCS provided an opportunity for student delegates from 59 countries to engage with each other, participate in workshops hosted by conservation specialists, and learn from plenary speakers. In a diversity of research approaches, budding conservationists showcased their work in a series of student talks and poster sessions, and students and invited experts addressed the question of how to overcome differences and thus achieve our conservation goals. We learned that considering, understanding and addressing community issues is the best way to gain support and achieve conservation outcomes.
With a range of topics to choose from, it was difficult to decide which conference workshops to attend. They included workshops on how to ensure we take actions based on the best available conservation evidence (William Sutherland and Claire Wordley), how to plan and raise funds for a conservation programme (Rosie Trevelyan), and how to analyse the data we collect (Alison Johnston). In Julia Jones's workshop on survey design we learned how to engage with a community while avoiding methodological pitfalls, and Martin Fisher showed a room full of eager conservationists how to give their research the best chance of being published (and most importantly, of being read!).
The variety and interdisciplinary nature of the plenary talks inspired the audience to consider the various approaches available for tackling conservation problems. Brendan Fisher (Vermont University) encouraged us to tap into people's weirdness, to achieve conservation goals by considering how people are likely to behave. Juliet Vickery (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) demonstrated how to use conservation science to influence policy, and Mwangi Githiru (Wildlife Works) showed how REDD+ is working in Kenya to reduce carbon emissions. In her quest to save the oceans, Heather Koldewey (Zoological Society of London) inspired us with innovative projects, including recycling fishing nets to make carpets, and campaigns to stop the single use of plastic water bottles. Heather left us with two messages that nobody at this SCCS is likely to forget, ‘a perfect dataset rarely exists but you can use what you know now to improve conservation’ and ‘you're young, you're bright, and you're trying to save the world—that's an amazing thing’. Overall, SCCS taught us how to achieve conservation goals while benefiting the people whose livelihoods depend on natural resources.
After coming away with heaps of new connections and tools, and injections of #EarthOptimism and #ConservationOptimism, we encourage all young conservationists to attend SCCS. You can already mark your calendar for the next Cambridge conference (27–29 March 2018; www.sccs-cam.org) or for sister conferences in Hungary (29 August–2 September, www.sccs.okologia.mta.hu/), India (20–24 September, www.sccs-bng.org) and the USA (11–13 October 2017, bit.ly/SCCS-New-York).