Trying to combat huge challenges facing our planet is a big ask, so the conservation summit in London have shared the stories of conservation success.
The Conservation Optimist Summit was born in response to the fact that in 40 years, over the half of the world’s wildlife has disappeared. The University of Oxford’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science (ICCS), the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust organised a three day event in London that saw nearly 250 attendees from around the world – from researchers and psychologists, to journalists – share success stories from the field.
The organisers were keen to demonstrate the importance of positive stories about conservation, especially since the world does not seem to take heed of the doom and gloom messages that startling facts about our earth show. One of the organisers, Carlyn Samuel, hoped that the summit will not only inform attendees, but inspire more people to work in conservation.
“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.”
One of the projects already discussed is the WWF’s ‘soy moratorium’ – a campaign that encouraged private sector companies in Brazil to voluntarily reduce soy production that was linked to deforestation. Another project that was discussed was a project by UK-based charity A Rocha which 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.
“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.”
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.
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’.