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Martin Jenkins

UNEP-WCMC Cambridge, UK

[email protected]

Douglas Williamson

FAO Conservation, Research and Education Service

[email protected]


Forest Resources Division

Forest Conservation, Research and Education Service

Douglas Williamson


There is an important difference between the way people relate to agriculture and the way they relate to the conservation of the natural world [hereafter referred to simply as ‘conservation’]. The need for food is an empirical fact, so nobody questions the need to produce it. But there is no general consensus about the natural world and attitudes towards it are by no means universally benign, as the following quotations illustrate:

Not everybody cares about the fate of wild animals or the state of the natural environment. I met a lady who said she wouldn’t worry if all the wild animals in the world disappeared overnight. She was a city person, she said.

Melvin Bolton [1997]

From a past replete with legends of man-bears, Montgomery brings us to the grim present: the shuddering horror of bears with paws cut off for soup – one at a time to keep the rest fresh. The animals’ vocal cords are then cut so that as they walk on the bloodied stumps their cries don’t disturb the tourists.

Adrian Barnett [2002]

The ways in which humans as a species relate to the natural world lie along an axis ranging from unthinking cruelty and destructiveness to complacent indifference to informed dependence to committed engagement, and the way people are distributed along this axis obviously has profound implications for its conservation. In particular, it means that the level of official financial support for conservation is much lower and less secure than funding for agriculture, including the conservation of agricultural biodiversity.

Attitudes to conservation by those not involved in it are an external consideration, which often takes the form of a constraint. This paper mainly concerns conceptual and practical issues within the domain of conservation which influence its effectiveness. It is based on a recent analysis of these issues by Jenkins (2002) .

Being “effective” is taken to mean “producing a desired effect”. In the context of biodiversity conservation it is often difficult to reach a consensus either on what desired effects or ends should be or how they should be produced. Jenkins [op. cit] provides some insight into the difficulty of reaching consensus with the following argument:

There may be broad agreement that the ultimate goal of conservation is to maintain as much as possible of the world’s existing biodiversity




Another factor which probably contributes to the difficulty of reaching consensus is the sheer complexity and immensity of the natural system we are trying to understand and manage. It is inevitable that most of us only see and work with a tiny part of it, and that the overall enterprise of conservation is therefore highly fragmented.

A convenient way of exploring the issue of consensus about conservation is to address three fundamental questions:

Why should we conserve biodiversity?
What, exactly, should we be conserving?
How should we conserve biodiversity?

Why should we conserve biodiversity?

This question has been at the root of conflicts over environmental and conservation issues since the earliest stirrings of the modern conservation movement. In the United States of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, for example, differences in values were personified by John Muir, leader of the movement to preserve wilderness and elected as first president of the Sierra Club in May 1892, and Gifford Pinchot, described as America’s first professional forester. Muir’s relationship with the natural world was essentially a spiritual one. He claimed that the “demands and the discontents of modern American civilization… were so great and the rewards were so fraudulent that wilderness preserves were a spiritual and psychological necessity” (Turner, 1997, page 312). Pinchot on the other hand was a utilitarian. In his view: “The object of our forest policy is not to preserve forests because they are beautiful or wild or the habitat of wild animals; it is to ensure a steady supply of timber for human prosperity. Every other consideration is secondary. …no lands will be permanent reserves which can serve the people better in any other way.” (Turner, 1997, page 323)

In the arguments that raged during the first decade of the twentieth century over plans to build a dam to provide water for San Francisco that would flood the Hetch Hetchy valley in California’s Yosemite National Park, the two men were predictably on opposing sides, Muir vehemently against, Pinchot resolutely for.

During the latter part of the twentieth century environmental economists attempted to capture the spectrum of values attached to biodiversity with categories such as: direct use, indirect use, option, existence and bequest. In these terms, the most marked difference is between those who allocate a high existence (or existence and bequest) value to the components of biological diversity in principle and those who do not. Preservationists are those who believe that biological diversity has intrinsic value and should be conserved for its own sake to the maximum extent possible, regardless of whether any given component can be shown to produce tangible economic benefits. They are effectively giving priority to existence and bequest values. Utilitarians, like Gifford Pinchot, attach low existence value to the individual components of biodiversity and hold that it is only justifiable to expend serious effort in maintaining those that can be shown to produce tangible benefits for humans, or conversely, that conservation actions are only justified if they do not entail any appreciable costs.

Despite the efforts of environmental economists to articulate the different values that may motivate conservation, both academic opionion and current events suggest that the conflict of values over why biodiversity should or should not be conserved has not abated.

In terms of academic opinion, Norton (2000) expresses the view that:

“Recent international discussions of biodiversity policy have established two points:

In terms of current events, there is the ongoing argument in the United States over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, environmentalists arguing that the refuge should remain inviolate, other constituencies arguing that the national interest requires that it should be opened to drilling for oil prospecting and development. The current controversy is strongly reminiscent of the controversy over the Hetch Hetchey valley almost a century ago.

Is there a way of transcending or at least ameliorating the apparently intractable difficulty of reconciling opposing positions on divisive environmental issues? Two ideas come to mind.

Firstly, it is obvious that in the modern world with its growing population, rising material aspirations and increasing appetite for energy and other critical resources, almost any substantial tract of land may attract the interest of a diversity of constituencies, which could include environmentalists, developers, international donors, national government departments and officials, civil society, local residents and communities, and so on. It is surely necessary for all these constituencies to recognize the legitimate interests of other stakeholders and to make what concessions they can without compromising their own needs, rights and principles.

Secondly and more tentatively, there seems to be some scope in such situations of conflict for deploying the expertise in decision analysis that has been developed over more than half a century, mainly in relation to business management but also in relation to thinking about values (e.g. Keeney 1994). Finding new ways of understanding and articulating old problems and exploring alternative solutions in ways that are rigorous and systematic but also imaginative, could reveal ways of reconciling seemingly conflicting interests.

What, exactly, should we be conserving?

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has been ratified by more than 180 states and can thus be taken to represent, at least nominally, the views of the vast majority of the world’s governments. The CBD, along with others (e.g. Mangel et al., 1996), in effect advocates conservation of genes, species and ecosytems, but it is rarely, if ever, a practical possibility to operate at all three levels, so decisions still have to be made about which aspects of biological diversity deserve priority. There is little consensus on this, and the absence of authoritative and usable guidance on what exactly we should be conserving has led to a diversity of approaches to the question of how biodiversity can best be conserved (e.g. IUCN, 1994, Noss, 1996 at page 574, Janzen, 1998, Angemeier 2000, Parks Canada, 2000, Myers et al., 2000).

How should we conserve biodiversity?

If one examines existing practice in terms of the genes, species and ecosystems approach it becomes evident that the influence of the CBD is as yet rather limited.

Conservation of genetic resources, in the sense of intra-specific genetic diversity, is seldom a feasible activity in field-based work, but it is a central concern in captive breeding projects and is also a consideration in reintroduction projects.

Since it is clearly impossible to conserve all species, decisions have to be made about what species to prioritize. There are two different approaches: one that concentrates on identifying individual species of importance, and one that identifies important areas where it is hoped that actions will benefit a significant number of species.


There is no global consensus as to what constitutes an important species, but species may be singled out for conservation action if they fall into one or more of the following categories:

Threatened species

Threatened species are those that are believed to be in danger of extinction. Threatened species listing systems, such as the US Endangered Species Act and the IUCN system, give clear guidance as to which species are believed in most urgent need of conservation action. But the guidance is incomplete because only a small proportion of the world's species has yet been assessed in terms of extinction risk. Information is most complete for birds and mammals and is very incomplete in most invertebrate and plant groups.

It is widely agreed that it is unrealistic at present to expect concerted conservation efforts to be undertaken for each of these threatened species individually, but there is not much agreement on which threatened species are most deserving of attention. For example, it is often assumed that the most threatened species are those that should be accorded highest priority and should therefore be the principal focus of action. But it can also be argued that some of these species are lost causes and that resources are better spent elsewhere.

Ecologically important species

It can be inferred from basic ecological understanding that keystone species which play a crucial role in ecosystems should be considered to be a high priority for conservation, and the thinking of ecologists is being vindicated by the results of so-called ‘small world’ analyses.

“The true keysones in an ecological community are the most highly connected species, the hubs of the network. The keystones are the ecological control centres, so to speak, and clearly the most important targets for preservation.” (Buchanan, 2002, page 154). But there are no rules for determining which are likely to be the keystone species, so identifying them can be difficult and demanding.

Species useful to humans

These include wild species that are harvested for food, medicines, clothing, building materials or other purposes, wild relatives of domesticated species or wild species (chiefly bacteria) with biochemical attributes that can potentially be harnessed industrially. In addition, some species are subject to non-consumptive use that can be expressed in economic terms. These are chiefly species that play an important role in tourism.

Species with non-use values

A number of species have an importance that cannot easily be quantified in economic terms. That is, a significant number of stakeholders ascribe a non-trivial existence or bequest value to them. Globally, the most important of these are the so-called “charismatic” species, particularly the charismatic megafauna, including large carnivores and birds of prey, cetaceans, sea-turtles, elephants, rhinoceroses and the great apes, but also some groups of smaller species such as other primates, parrots, large butterflies, and even some plants. Species may also be important for religious, spiritual or scientific reasons.

And of course, a species may be important for more than one reason. For example, the Malagasy Indri (Indri indri) is regarded as a sacred species by local people in much of its range, is decidedly charismatic, with great popular appeal, and is of considerable scientific interest to primatologists (Harcourt, 1990).

With so many reasons for attaching importance to species, it is not surprising that there is litte agreement on which species merit special conservation action. Local priorities may be different from national ones, which may in turn be different from global ones. For example, a species that is considered of high priority by some biologists because it is both taxonomically distinct and threatened, may be of little interest or concern to local people within its range. Conversely, a population of a widespread, non-threatened species regarded by conservation biologists as of low priority internationally may be of considerable local importance.


Area-based approaches are widely advocated for planning in species’ conservation. They are based on the observation that some parts of the world have far more species than others. Areas with large numbers of species, especially endemics, are often referred to as "hotspots" (Myers et al., 2000). It is argued that by concentrating conservation efforts in these areas, a disproportionate impact can be had on the maintenance of global biological diversity. This approach can theoretically be applied at any geographical scale. It is widely accepted that such area-based approaches are the only realistic hope of maintaining a significant proportion of the world’s biological diversity, but there are both practical and theoretical difficulties in identifying the most important areas.

On problem is that information on global species’ distribution is very incomplete and heavily biased towards large, conspicuous forms, so identification of important areas has to be made on the basis of partial knowledge and is usually based on an assumption that areas important for well-known species are also important for others, that is that measures of diversity in different groups of organisms are highly correlated, but this may not necessarily be the case.

A further difficulty is that species’ diversity may be important either for its richness or for its endemicity. There is notway of judging the relative importance of an area with high species’ richness but low endemicity against an area with lower species’richness but higher endemicity.

Much also depends on the scale at which any assessment is made: a square metre of European chalk grassland will contain many more plant species than a square metre of tropical moist forest, while for an area of one square kilometre the reverse will be the case.

Concentration of conservation efforts on global hotspots of species’ richness and endemism, assuming that these can be reliably identified, has a number of implications. Most importantly, it implicitly ignores the large part of the world that is not within a hotspot, and the high proportion of species not present in such areas. It therefore embodies what is ultimately a narrow conception of global conservation priorities.

The ecoregion approach avoids the problem associated with hotspot methods, of recognizing only a limited set of areas as of conservation importance. It combines analysis of biogeography, based on the distributions of species and species’ groups, particularly narrow endemics, with an assessment of the dominant natural ecosystem or ecosystems in a particular area to divide the world, or part of the world, into a series of ecoregions. The identified conservation goal is then to maintain representative samples of natural areas in each of the identified ecoregions, or in those identified as of high priority because of their uniqueness or the urgency or scale of the threats they face.

But the ecoregion approach is based on the assumption that the world can usefully be divided into discrete, identifiable regions of this kind, and that these regions are suitable units for conservation planning. Both these assumptions are to some degree problematic. In the first instance, natural habitats and ecosystems seem generally to form part of a highly variable continuum, unless they are separated by very definite physical barriers, rather than form discrete entities. Dividing this continuum into units is to some extent therefore an artificial exercise. In addition, biogeographic patterns in different groups of organisms are not necessarily highly correlated with each other. Thus, a biogeographic analysis using vascular plant families will yield a different set of patterns from one using vertebrate families. Similarly, ecoregional classifications based on terrestrial ecosystems and biota have limited relevance, at least in continental regions, to freshwater systems where biogeography is very largely determined by drainage patterns.


The Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity have decided that the ecosystem approach should be the primary focus for actions undertaken to meet the objectives of the convention. They have subsequently devoted some effort to deciding what this actually means in practice. There appear to be two separate, though linked, concepts involved here. The first is the maintenance of particular ecosystems of importance. Implicit in this is the assumption that such ecosystems can be considered to be spatially distinct entities, so that this involves conservation of particular more or less well-defined areas. The second is the maintenance of ecosystem processes.

The CBD itself recognizes the following ecosystems and habitats as of importance (Annex I of the Convention). Those containing high diversity, large numbers of endemic or threatened species, or wilderness; required by migratory species; of social, economic, cultural or scientific importance; or, which are representative, unique or associated with key evolutionary or other biological processes. It further defines an ecosystem as “a dynamic complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit”.

Several of the categories of importance that are defined implicitly or explicitly with reference to species are effectively reformulations of the area-based approaches to species’ conservation outlined above.

An alternative approach to conservation emphasizes natural processes rather than the particular entities (populations of various species) that mediate these processes. At the most fundamental level, these processes are energy fixation (almost entirely through photosynthesis), the cycling of that energy and of a range of organic and inorganic chemicals. They also include regulation of climate and water movement on land, soil formation and retention and, in the sea, formation of reefs and other zoogenic structures. These processes take place across all spatial and temporal scales.

Maintenance of these processes is seen as important for three main reasons. The first is to allow ecosystems to continue providing goods and services to humans; the second is to maintain or restore naturalness; the third is as a means of allowing populations of species to be maintained, or rather to maintain themselves. This last case can be seen as essentially a methodology for organism or species-based conservation, discussed above.

Major constraints on the effectiveness of ongoing efforts to conserve existing biological diversity

Given the uncertainties that arise from the lack of consensus about optimal approaches to conservation, it is hardly surprising that manifold difficulties are experienced in attempting to carry out effective conservation in practice. There are many reasons for this, ranging from the global to the local, and from the general to the highly specific. These are illustrated in Table 1.


Constraints on effectiveness of ongoing efforts to conserve biodiversity




Pressure from population growth and increased resource consumption, production of waste, breaking down of biogeographical barriers


Lack of political will to prioritize or mainstream biodiversity conservation and to invest in its implementation


Lack of enabling policy, legal and institutional environment

Practical implementation

Failure to articulate clear goals, and failure to identify specific problems that need solving in order for goals to be met

Practical implementation

Inherent difficulty of changing behaviour that is having a negative impact on biodiversity

Practical implementation

Difficulty of maintaining conservation values while promoting development

Practical implementation

Simplistic assumptions about effect of poverty alleviation on attitudes to biodiversity conservation

Practical implementation

Simplistic assumptions about nature and functioning of communities

Multiple-use protected areas

Need to reconcile conflicting needs of users while also meeting conservation goals

Technical problems

Scientific uncertainty or inadequate capacity creates uncertainty about outcomes of actions

Alien species

Lack of capacity to control, selection of inappropriate control methods

Strict protected areas

Conflicting management goals, disagreement over permissible level of intervention

Highly threatened species

Uncertainty and conflict about optimal approach to conservation

Complexity of problems

Scarcity of skills in leadership, conflict management and applying a multi-disciplinary approach

Funding regime, project cyles

Conservation has no end-point, funding and project cycles are short-term – difficult to reconcile these time scales

Increasing the effectiveness of conservation

Because of the complexity and unpredictability of the world, there is no single, definitive approach to effective conservation.

Those implementing conservation activities have to deal with the complexities of the physical environment, of ecosystems, of populations of non-human species and of human society, and with the interactions between all these levels. Any given conservation scenario will almost certainly present a unique combination of these. Thus, even if it is possible to obtain a persuasive account of why certain approaches have succeeded or failed, it may be difficult to work out which of these may be widely applicable and which may be products of a particular and unique set of circumstances.

But of course as experience accumulates generalities do emerge and it would be extremely wasteful to ignore all previous activities. Success lies in learning from other experiences without being prescriptive and avoiding a “one size fits all” mentality.

A general issue that requires more attention than it has yet received is the opportunity that exists to conserve biodiversity in production landscapes of all kinds. Given the inexorable expansion and intensification of human activities, this is a crucial issue.

Those who fund and manage conservation can contribute to improved practice on the ground by working to create an supportive environment for conservation. Those who implement conservation on the ground are best placed to improve its practice.


Engaging with the biodiversity- related conventions

The processes of the biodiversity- related conventions involve the vast majority of the world’s governments and have generated wide-ranging programmes of work that directly or indirectly involve conservation. Constructive engagement with these processes on the part of non-governmental and government organizations that are concerned with conservation is a way of working to make national and international government and policy arenas more amenable to and supportive of conservation efforts.

Achieving internal coherence

Organizations involved in conservation should articulate strategic goals and visions so that those working for them, particularly those on the ground, know what they are supposed to be aiming at. This would provide a vital wider context for local efforts, as well as help bring a sense of cohesion to what are often a highly dispersed group of people. It involves devoting considerable energy and resources to communications, which should be two-way, so that the practical experience of those working locally informs higher-level policy and advocacy work and vice-versa.

Moving away from the centrality of projects

It has become clear that if conservation is to be successful it has to be a sustained and continuing process, like providing health care, for example. This means modifying the time-scale over which interventions take place, accepting the possibility of long-term support, for example through trust funds and other means, and eschewing expectations of rapid results, both in terms of changes in human behaviour and in impacts on biodiversity.

It does not mean that good money should be thrown after bad, that once a commitment has been made, investment should continue regardless of outcomes. There should always be a preparedness to withdraw from a particular area or activity as a last resort. Indeed, any programme working in an area as complex as conservation should expect a certain percentage of failures. But this percentage can be kept to a minimum if great care is taken in deciding what to invest in and where to invest.

No less important than a decision to invest is a decision, after careful appraisal, not to invest in a particular area or activity - that is, a willingness to walk away if there is little realistic hope of any significant success.

A further requirement is that any long-term commitment should involve not just financial investment, but also the establishment of mechanisms to ensure that the activities undertaken are subject to continuing review and, if necessary, modification.

External communications

Obviously there are strong incentives for organizations and institutions involved in conservation to emphasize their successes in their external communications, but this can be counterproductive because as much can be learnt from where things go wrong as from successes. A more open and honest approach to the sharing of information and experience would enhance lesson-learning and help build capacity across the entire conservation community. It is, of course, unrealistic to expect conservation organizations and institutions to shift completely from what is still an essentially competitive approach to a wholly cooperative one. Such a shift would in any event almost certainly not be wholly beneficial to the practice of conservation, as it would be unlikely to encourage innovation. However, what is definitely needed is a shift in balance towards a more cooperative approach.


Clarify objectives

Just as any organization involved in conservation activities should articulate its visions and long-term goals, so field activities should have a clear objective or set of objectives that fit in with those visions and goals. These should be specified as precisely as possible.

A set of activities may, of course, have multiple conservation objectives. In this case the objectives should be set out and prioritized - it is very possible, or even likely, that the objectives may conflict with each other (e.g. restoration of natural ecosystem processes may be inimical to some threatened species’ populations).

Interventions in any given area may equally have development objectives as well as conservation objectives. If this is the case it is vital that the relationship between the two sets of objectives is clarified and made explicit at the outset. Determining which takes precedence may have a profound impact on the nature of the activities undertaken.

Set targets

Once the conservation objectives of a set of interventions have been established, explicit targets for each of them should be set. These targets should relate to outcomes rather than activities. For example, the target should be that the population of a given threatened species has reached a certain threshold, or has increased at five percent per year for at least five years, not that hunting has been successfully controlled.

Targets should be realistic. They do not necessarily have to be quantitative - in many circumstances, particularly in tropical forest ecosystems where accurate monitoring of most components of biodiversity is extremely difficult, it may be counterproductive to set precise quantitative targets. Here, targets based on relative changes in abundance, say, or even qualitative measures based on expert assessment may be as valuable. It is equally important in these cases, however, that the targets, and the criteria used to judge whether they have been met, are made explicit.

Identify impediments

Having determined objectives and set targets, the next step is to identify impediments to reaching those targets. These can be loosely divided into two categories: actual or potential threats to the components of biodiversity in question, and constraints on action.

Identifying actual or potential threats to particular components of biodiversity may be extremely complex. General categories of threat may be rather obvious, but determining the relative importance of different threats is often much more difficult. It is crucial that the assumptions on which threat assessment is based are carefully questioned. Without this a great deal of time, money and energy can be spent trying to address factors that are of little or even no immediate importance (e.g. brown tree snakes, cahows, logging in tropical forests).

There will always be limits to the kinds of actions that can be undertaken locally to mitigate threats. These limits may be imposed by the interests of different stakeholders, by technical constraints, limitations in available resources, or where the origin of the threat lies outside the geographical sphere of influence of those engaged in direct management. A clear, realistic understanding of these from an early stage in planning may prevent much wasted effort later on.

Develop an active management plan aimed at reaching desired targets

A plan of some kind is a fundamental requirement of virtually any conservation intervention. The plan itself needs to be unduly complex – indeed it should be as elaborate as necessary and no more. At minimum it should set out what is intended to be done, how (and by whom) this is to be achieved and how the achievement is to be assessed.

Adaptive management

The original proponents of adaptive management (e.g. Holling, 1978) intended it to be management by active experimentation. This involves construction of a model of the system under consideration. Different management scenarios are applied to the system to generate a series of possible outcomes. The most favourable of these are then tested in real-life situations. Monitoring before and during the application of a particular management regime allows its impacts on the system to be assessed. A choice can then be made between different regimes. Implicit in this technique is the comparison between different approaches, with one (usually non- or minimal-intervention or business-as-usual) regarded as control. This entails operating different management regimes either in parallel, that is in two areas at the same time, or in series - that is one after the other in the same area.

For whatever reason, active adaptive management is evidently still an uncommon approach in management of biodiversity, even in North America, where the concept originated and where, at least potentially, the resources and legislative and institutional infrastructures are available to implement it.

A much more widely used approach is what may be termed passive adaptive management or "adaptable management" (Alexander, 2000). In terms of this, what is considered to be the best available management option is adopted. Its impact on the identified targets is subject to continuous monitoring which is fed back so that modifications to the management regime can be made as appropriate. Implicit in this is a setting of thresholds in the status or trends in those aspects of biodiversity identified as priorities under the objectives. Reaching or crossing these (negative) thresholds will normally trigger modifications or at least detailed examination of the management regime.

Stakeholder involvement

Rarely will conservation entail a single individual acting entirely in isolation. In most cases more than one person, and often a large number of different interest groups, will be involved.

The perceptions of the different groups, the relationships between them and their respective responsibilities must be clearly understood if any other than the simplest of plans is to be successful. Clearly the better people understand what is expected of them, the greater the likelihood of success. As a general rule, this implies that the more participatory the approach, the better.

Thus, whenever management programmes are being planned, priority should be given at the start of the process to explicitly identifying different stakeholder groups, what their stake or interest in the process is, and how best they might be represented. Many different methods for ensuring participation have been developed. Most involve facilitated workshops or other kinds of meetings. Whatever system is adopted, it is important that at each step, clear individual responsibilities are allocated for carrying the process forward.

Establish monitoring protcols and regimes

Just as effective conservation can ultimately only be defined in terms of impacts on the actual components of biodiversity on which interventions are focused, so the effectiveness of management can only be assessed by monitoring those components of biodiversity. Establishment of protocols and regimes for this should be an integral part of all conservation interventions. Because of the complexity of most biodiversity issues, innovative approaches may have to be developed. These may include involvement of local people in surveys and monitoring (so-called “citizen science”), training of parataxonomists and use a range of remote-sensing techniques.

While the importance of monitoring cannot be over-emphasized, it is equally important that the protocols established should not be unrealistically complicated or expensive to implement. Long-term continuity is the most important aspect of any monitoring regime, and this should be the prime consideration in its initial design.

Reporting and documentation

For most people involved in conservation management, reporting is one of the most unrewarding and onerous tasks. Unfortunately it is also one of the most important tasks, particularly in complex situations, which most conservation activities are. The major reason for keeping records should be to improve conservation management in the area concerned. Conservation objectives are not, or should not be, time-bound, so that the need for management of some form should outlive the involvement of any given individuals. However, much successful conservation action depends on the expertise of particular individuals. Ways need to be found of transmitting this expertise to succeeding generations of managers. Oral transmission and learning-by-doing are very often the most successful of these, but there are almost certain to be gaps and discontinuities at times when these forms of transmission are broken. Permanent records – written words, photographs, video or tape-recording – can play a vital role in filling this gap. This form of documentation does not necessarily have to be highly formalised.

Documentation in conservation management activities is also important in situations where different interest groups are involved. Sooner or later disputes are almost certain to arise over why a given set of actions has been carried out. The better the decision-making process has been documented, the more easily such disputes can be resolved. In this case, documentation should concentrate on what decisions have been made (i.e. actions to be undertaken and designated responsibilities) with brief justification. Concision and clarity are the two most important characteristics of this form of documentation.

As well as improving practice locally, reliable documentation serves many other purposes. In the first instance, it can be used to help disseminate lessons learned elsewhere, spreading knowledge and helping to overcome the barriers to learning from experience. Related to this, it should help in constituency-building and wider advocacy. Narratives of successful conservation action are some of the most powerful communication tools available (although the temptation, as noted elsewhere in this report, may be to present unduly positive versions of what has happened; this is likely to be counterproductive in the long-term).



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