From protec­­­tion to connec­tion

How wildlife and humans can co-exist

Department of Social Sciences

The CONVIVA research project, led by Wageningen University & Research, is part of a broader movement towards conservation: one that promotes co-existence of wildlife and humans. The project focuses on top predators. “Top predators are charismatic. They are considered keystone species that help keep ecosystems balanced,” project co-leader Robert Fletcher states.

This research contributes to Sustainable Develeopment Goal 15: Life on land.

Extinction rates are accelerating and global biodiversity thresholds may soon surpass ‘planetary boundaries,’ where an even more dramatic decline is inevitable, according to recent studies (including the major IPBES report launched in June 2019).

Convivial conservation is a new approach to addresses this challenge. Convivial (literally: ‘living with’) conservation offers an integrated approach to understanding and practising environmental conservation. Based on a holistic ‘Whole Earth’ vision and existing examples from innovative conservation efforts in development around the world, the principle is that human places and nature can and should be integrated within both rural and urban spaces. The idea is to build on this conceptualisation and promising examples of existing practices to develop a general conservation model that can be adapted to specific contexts throughout the world.

Convivial conservation

is a new approach to address the accelerating extinction rates

This approach integrates

human and nature

in rural and urban spaces

Professor Bram Buscher en associate professor Robert Fletcher


this approach

This new approach is developed by professor Bram Buscher and associate professor Robert Fletcher of the Sociology of Development and Change (SDC) group at Wageningen University & Research. Robert Fletcher: “Our earlier research always highlighted the problems of conservation policy, and we were often asked what our alternative was. That’s why we developed our approach to convivial conservation.”

Conservation basic income

To facilitate this approach, a transformation of the global economy and a more equal distribution of wealth are needed, says Fletcher. “People living near biodiverse areas should be supported to develop sustainable livelihoods that don’t require market engagement, for instance through what we call a ‘conservation basic income’. Meanwhile, those with the largest footprints should change their livelihoods and lifestyles the most, even if they live far from conservation areas.”

The research project focuses on trans­forming conservation policy in relation to four apex predators: jaguars, grizzly bears, wolves and lions

Charismatic predators

The research project focuses on transforming conservation policy and practice in relation to four apex predators: jaguars in the Atlantic forest in Brazil (where state funding for conservation and development has declined), grizzly bears in California (where grizzly reintroduction efforts are being discussed), wolves in North Karelia in Eastern Finland (where the number of wolves is declining for unknown reasons) and lions in Tanzania (where the aim is to contribute to finding spatial strategies for convivial conservation under different governance arrangements).

Fletcher explains: “Top predators are charismatic. They are considered keystone species that help keep ecosystems balanced. They are also highly mobile, as they need a lot of space. These animals are the hardest to live with. Conflicts between humans and wildlife regularly occur. You could say: if convivial conservation works with these species, then it will potentially work with all species.”

We can do everything we can to protect nature in specific places, but if we don’t change the political and economic system, we’ll do nothing but polish brass on the Titanic

What does the CONVIVA research project entail?

Learning from partners

CONVIVA’s hypothesis is that ‘living with’ apex predators can be effectively combined with new forms of governance and economic development. Fletcher: “Together with local communities and partners we work on dialogue and developing best practices. In this way, we aim to arrive at a set of more general principles. We learn from our partners and they learn from us and each other.”

The CONVIVA project aims to establish a transformational approach to conservation that benefits both wildlife and humans, and that combines structural change with grassroots solutions to promote co-existence, cultural diversity and biodiversity, and justice. “With our approach, we work at both the global and the local level”, says Fletcher. “Local areas are part of a global ecosystem. Global markets are the main driving forces behind biodiversity loss. Therefore consumption patterns must change worldwide. We can do everything we can to protect nature in specific places, but if we don't change the political and economic system as well, we'll do nothing but polish brass on the Titanic.”

Something radically different

The convivial conservation vision seems to fall into fertile soil. Fletcher: “In the past decade criticism has also grown within the nature conservation organisations about the traditional approach of setting up nature reserves from which people are excluded as much as possible. Our approach has therefore generated a lot of impact in terms of attention as more and more people recognise that something radically different is needed.”

Among various collaborators, SDC is currently working with the Dutch Planning Bureau for the Environment (PBL) to build convivial conservation scenarios that can inform post-2020 biodiversity frameworks. “We are also engaging on outreach to and collaboration with a variety of other conservation organisations focused on similar issues”, says Fletcher.

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Do you have a question about convivial conservation? Ask our expert:

Robert Fletcher

Associate Professor Sociology of Development and Change

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