Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Conservation, evidence and policy

  • William. M. Adams (a1) and Chris Sandbrook (a2)

A growing literature argues for evidence-based conservation. This concept reflects a wider approach to policy-making and follows thinking in medicine, in which rigorous, objective analysis of evidence has contributed to widespread improvements in medical outcomes. Clearly, conservation decisions should be informed by the best information available. However, we identify issues relating to the type and sources of evidence commonly used and the way evidence-based conservation studies frame policy debate. In this paper we discuss two issues; firstly, we ask ‘what counts as evidence?’ (what is meant by evidence, and what kind of evidence is given credibility). We conclude that evidence-based conservation should adopt a broad definition of evidence to give meaningful space for qualitative data, and local and indigenous knowledge. Secondly, we ask ‘how does evidence count?’ (the relationship between evidence and the policy-making process). We conclude that there should be greater recognition that policy-making is a complex and messy process, and that the role of evidence in policy making can never be neutral. In the light of these issues we suggest some changes to build on developing practice under the title evidence-informed conservation. The change in terminology is subtle, yet it has profound implications in that it calls for a re-positioning and re-understanding of conservation science as one source of information among many for decision-makers.

Corresponding author
(Corresponding author) E-mail
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

W.M. Adams (2010) Path dependence in conservation. In Trade-offs in Conservation: Deciding What to Save (eds N. Leader-Williams, W.M. Adams & R.J. Smith), pp. 292310. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, UK.

J.P. Brosius (1999) Green dots, pink hearts: displacing politics from the Malaysian rain forest. American Anthropologist, 101, 3657.

R.L. Bryant (2002) Non-governmental organizations and governmentality: ‘consuming’ biodiversity and indigenous people in the Philippines. Political Studies, 50, 268292.

B. Büscher (2010) Anti-politics as political strategy: neoliberalism and transfrontier conservation in Southern Africa. Development and Change, 41, 2951.

H. Collins & R. Evans (2002) The third wave of science studies: studies of expertise and experience. Social Studies of Science, 32, 235296.

H. Collins & R. Evans (2007) Rethinking Expertise. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA.

P. Dickson & W.M. Adams (2009) Science and uncertainty in South Africa's elephant management debate. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 27, 110123.

L. Elgert (2010) Politicizing sustainable development: the co-production of globalized evidence-based policy. Critical Policy Studies, 3, 375390.

T. Greenhalgh & J. Russell (2009) Evidence-based policymaking: a critique. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 52, 304318.

T. Ingold (2000) The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. Routledge, London, UK.

S. Jasanoff , G.E. Markle J.C. Peterson & T. Pinch (eds) (1995) Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, USA.

T. Krueger , T. Page , K. Hubacek , L. Smith & K. Hiscock (2012) The role of expert opinion in environmental modelling. Environmental Modelling & Software, 36, 418.

I. Nevo & V. Slonim-Nevo (2011) The myth of evidence-based practice: towards evidence-informed practice. British Journal of Social Work, 41, 11761197.

R.B. Peterson , D. Russell , P. West & J.P. Brosius (2010) Seeing (and doing) conservation through cultural lenses. Environmental Management, 45, 518.

M. Petticrew & H. Roberts (2003) Evidence, hierarchies, and typologies: horses for courses. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 57, 527529.

J. Pretty (2002) People, livelihoods and collective action in biodiversity management. In Biodiversity, Sustainability and Human Communities: Protecting Beyond the Protected (eds T. O'Riordan & S. Stoll-Kleeman), pp. 6186. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

A.S. Pullin & T.M. Knight (2001) Effectiveness in conservation practice: pointers from medicine and public health. Conservation Biology, 15, 5054.

A.S.Pullin & T.M.Knight (2003) Support for decision making in conservation practice: an evidence-based approach. Journal for Nature Conservation, 11, 8390.

A.S. Pullin , T.M. Knight , D.A. Stone & K. Charman (2004) Do conservation managers use scientific evidence to support their decision-making? Biological Conservation, 119, 245252.

A.S. Pullin , T.M. Knight & A.R. Watkinson (2009) Linking reductionist science and holistic policy using systematic reviews: unpacking environmental policy questions to construct an evidence-based framework. Journal of Applied Ecology, 46, 970975.

A.S. Pullin & N. Salafsky (2010) Save the whales? Save the rainforest? Save the data! Conservation Biology, 24, 915917.

A.S. Pullin & G.B. Stewart (2006) Guidelines for systematic review in conservation and environmental management. Conservation Biology, 20, 16471656.

C.M.Raymond , I.Fazey , M.S.Reed , L.C.Stringer , G.M.Robinson & A.C.Evely (2010) Integrating local and scientific knowledge for environmental management. Journal of Environmental Management, 91, 17661777.

E. Roe (1991) Development narratives, or making the best of blueprint development. World Development, 19, 287300.

D. Roe , J. Elliott , C. Sandbrook & M. Walpole (eds) (2012) Biodiversity Conservation and Poverty Alleviation: Exploring the Evidence for a Link. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester, UK.

I. Sanderson (2002) Making sense of ‘what works’: evidence based policy making as instrumental rationality. Public Policy and Administration, 17, 6175.

D.B. Segan , M.C. Bottrill , P.W.J. Baxter & H.P. Possingham (2011) Using conservation evidence to guide management. Conservation Biology, 25, 200202.

L. Shaxon (2005) Is your evidence robust enough? Questions for policy makers and practitioners. Evidence and Policy, 1, 101111.

D. Sheil & A. Lawrence (2004) Tropical biologists, local people and conservation: new opportunities for collaboration. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 19, 634638.

R.J. Smith , D. Verissimo , N. Leader-Williams , R.M. Cowling & A.T. Knight (2009) Let the locals lead. Nature, 462, 280281.

G.B. Stewart , C.F. Coles & A.S. Pullin (2005) Applying evidence-based practice in conservation management: lessons from the first systematic review and dissemination projects. Biological Conservation, 126, 270278.

A. Stirling (2010) Keep it complex. Nature, 468, 10291031.

W.J. Sutherland , A.S. Pullin , P.M. Dolman & T.M. Knight (2004) The need for evidence-based conservation. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 19, 305308.

E. Turnhout , B. Bloomfield , M. Hulme , J. Vogel & B. Wynne (2012) Listen to the voices of experience. Nature, 488, 454455.

P. West (2005) Translation, value, and space: theorizing an ethnographic and engaged environmental anthropology. American Anthropologist, 107, 632642.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0030-6053
  • EISSN: 1365-3008
  • URL: /core/journals/oryx
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score