Sometimes the hardest part about conservation work is people. They are often the ones who provide all the hoops that we must jump through to protect nature. It can therefore be tempting to isolate pristine environments from them and keep nature separate. And in an ideal world, perhaps this is the best way. But in our challenging and imperfect world, we need everyone (and then some) to fight for nature, and whilst this might sound unusual, for me this starts with compassion.
This is different from empathy or sympathy where you understand someone’s emotions or feel bad for them when they’re in pain. Compassion goes a step further bringing along the desire to help relieve negative feelings or pain. For me as a conservationist, it means genuinely wanting to engage, involve, and inspire people while Scaling Conservation in an effort to encourage them to champion the protection of our precious ecosystems.
Compassion means giving people time to process change and allowing their voices to be heard.
Think about your favourite place in the world, your favourite landscape; isn’t it perfectly normal to form emotional attachments and not want these places to change? As the people bringing change even in the form of conservation, surely, we must understand that these emotional attachments, while sometimes frustrating, can be powerful motivators for restoration work.
As enthusiastic conservationists, we come to a project with ideas and passion – we want to see big changes quickly. But while we might think we know exactly what to do with a landscape, showing patience can be beneficial for both nature and people. It takes time to learn about a landscape and understand what is best for nature there. And, as an added bonus, it can give people time to process the fact that things are going to change and hopefully, as a result, become champions for restoration.
Ultimately, it is our responsibility as conservationists to be advocates for the environment, and people are part of that environment. It is part of our job to provide information and clarity, and to give people the opportunity to be involved and have their voices heard – this is what will pull people in rather than push them into opposition.
Compassion means understanding that opposition can come from a place of fear.
When people oppose conservation work, it isn’t always the work itself that they oppose, but rather the fear of the unknown or the fear of what might be lost. At its core, this fear often stems from a place of deep love and attachment to specific landscapes and communities. However, it is often the uncertainty that feeds that fear, not necessarily the changes themselves. And, if it is the uncertainty driving this fear…we can do something about that.
What is the best way to fight uncertainty? To openly engage with those who engage with us. This doesn’t mean always agreeing with them, but it does mean trying to find common ground. Bringing to the forefront the reasons why we love a landscape, why they love it, and focusing on the positive benefits for wildlife and the local community. While this isn’t a perfect recipe, it can often create an energy that can be channelled to help in fighting the climate collapse and biodiversity crisis.
Compassion means treating yourself with kindness and knowing we aren’t perfect conservationists.
There will be times when we feel overwhelmed and uncertain in our conservation efforts, and it can be easy to get wrapped up in the things we and others are doing wrong. It is important to remain focused on solutions, showing compassion and understanding to other conservationists, and ultimately working together towards our common goal.
Conservation work can be draining, exciting yes, but draining. Sometimes it can feel as though we are making little progress and there will be times when we have more questions than answers. It is essential to show ourselves the same compassion we show others – to be patient with our learning process, to take opportunities to have our voices heard, to remain inspired by our love of nature, and to ask for help when needed.
It is this compassion in conservation that will inspire others to Scale Conservation with us. We must recognize that many heads are better than one and that by welcoming others into our work, we gain valuable perspectives and creative solutions that may accelerate our progress in ways we never thought possible.
Though there are always going to be those who oppose conservation efforts, I don’t believe this is a good enough reason to exclude people from nature or to work in secret. By demonstrating compassion for both nature and people and embracing listening as a tool, we can have a much greater impact on the environment in the long term. This is one of the main reasons I applied to work at Oxygen Conservation – they strive to make both an environmental and social impact. They protect and restore landscapes for both nature and people. Yes, they stand up for nature, but they don’t discount the value of community and diverse voices. The reality is, Oxygen Conservation owns their sites, and they don’t need to hold community consultations, but they do anyways. In doing so, they create a powerful snowball effect of inspiration that pulls people into the fight for nature and ultimately expands our ability to save the planet.