“‘Nature conservation’ sounds more conservative than it really is”

Observations from the Seminar on International Nature Conservation

Prince Constantijn in the audience at the Seminar for International Nature Conservation
Left to right: Jhr Paul de Ranitz tot Doornick, Rens Voesenek, Prince Constantijn, Marjan Oudeman, Jaboury Ghazoul, Marijke van Kuijk

On 12 June, Professor Jaboury Ghazoul gave his inaugural lecture as holder of the Prince Bernhard Chair for International Nature Conservation. In honour of the 30-year anniversary of the Chair, Prince Constantijn visited the Seminar that was held before Ghazoul’s inaugural lecture, and took part in the discussion session about the history and future of nature conservation. An important theme was the connection between science, practice, and policy. "The Prince Bernhard Chair strives to link science and practice by educating students, by stimulating conservation research, and by asking attention for urgent matters in conservation," said Marijke van Kuijk, coordinator of the Prince Bernhard Chair at Utrecht University.

Kirsten Schuyt, CEO of WWF Netherlands, gave a presentation on the different views on conservation work, and illustrated this with examples from all over the world. Pieter Zuidema, Professor in tropical forest ecology at Wageningen University, spoke about developments in the history of conservation science. He observed that the complexity and scale of nature conservation have been becoming larger since the 1960's, and the status of conservation science has also increased, with publications in high-ranked scientific journals.

Seminar on International Nature Conservation
After the seminar, Prince Constantijn spoke at length with some of the attendees

From conservation to continuity

In the debate session, which was led by Marieke Harteveld, Chief Conservation Officer at WWF Netherlands, the attendees spoke about challenges and issues in nature conservation. It emerged that nature conservation now is more focused on continuity than it was in the past, when saving a certain species was an end goal in itself. That also creates the need to think more in terms of different scenarios, for example different ways in which climate change can impact ecosystems.

Prince Constantijn observed that if nature conservation is becoming more about looking forward rather than looking back, then why are we still calling it ‘conservation’? While the attendees agreed that the term does not sound very representative – “conservation sounds more conservative than it really is,” Zuidema remarked – that might not be an urgent motive to move away from the term. Ghazoul remarked that ‘ecosystem management’ might be an improvement, as his own chair at ETH Zürich is named.

Inaugural speech Jaboury Ghazoul
After the seminar, Jaboury Ghazoul gave his inaugural speech

Science, practice, and policy

When it comes to the future of nature conservation, participants mentioned seeing a trend of diminishing roles for national governments, and conversely, a more active attitude from individuals, private companies, and local governments. That means it is becoming more and more important to make choices and form partnerships in order to make an impact. To reach out to the public, it might be necessary to simplify the message to a certain extent, although, as Harteveld added, the public can handle more complexity than one may think.

When it comes to the link between conservation science and practice, Schuyt emphasized that WWF is actively searching collaboration, not only with scientists, but also with students. Ghazoul added that from the perspective of science, making the link to policy can be tricky, because there tends to be a difference in paradigm: whereas science is objective, making policy decisions is a value judgment. That creates additional responsibilities from both researchers and policy makers to seek and accept each other’s mode of reasoning.


In conclusion, whether you prefer the term ‘nature conservation’ or ‘ecosystem management’: a continuing and intensifying collaboration between science, policy, and practice remains important. “The Prince Bernhard Chair was initiated 30 years ago to bridge this gap,” said Zuidema in his presentation, “and I really hope that Jaboury Ghazoul will continue to do so, as well as the chair holders after him.”

Seminar on International Nature Conservation