Europe's rich and varied natural treasures are on the decline. Biodiversity, however, remains vital to our well-being. For this reason, Wageningen scientists are collaborating with international colleagues on research into which arguments will spur people to protect biodiversity.
Why should we protect biodiversity?
Policymakers are looking for greater insight into the value of biodiversity, and as Rob Bugter of Wageningen Environmental Research explains: “They also want clarity into why people care about protecting biodiversity and to know which arguments are effective.” Bugter was formerly the project leader of BESAFE, a major European project to improve and renew the efforts to preserve biodiversity. Contemporary arguments for preserving the world's wealth in nature include matters such as societal benefits and biodiversity's role in reducing poverty. In Europe, economic arguments prevail, with a growing focus on ecosystem services and the importance of their sustainable use. Other values are snowed under by this concentration on services and sustainability. In order to 'sell' biodiversity conservation, national governments often point to the need to meet legal requirements set by the European Union.
Case studies performed by BESAFE demonstrate that the reasons for preserving biodiversity are quite different at the local and regional levels. At these levels, economic arguments go hand-in-hand with ethical and moral arguments. We want to protect biodiversity because of its intrinsic value (the intrinsic value of species other than humans), because it contributes to the economy and because it promotes our well-being. Robustness and the capacity of nature to adapt to climate change are also slowly emerging as significant factors. In short: we are most receptive to an admixture of positive reasons for protecting biodiversity. Quite often, emphasising the dangers of losing biodiversity is counterproductive.
Rob Bugter, biodiversity researcher at Wageningen Environmental Research, remarks: “Many people feel a connection to nature and believe it has its own right to exist.”
According to Bugter, biodiversity conservation requires more than imposing top-down policies; other measures such as describing goals and setting limits also prove effective. “In practice, we see that only imposing policies does not help to stop the decline.” We also need to safeguard biodiversity outside the designated nature reserves. Especially because we directly benefit from these ecosystems in areas such as crop pollination, natural pest control, water purification and the assurance of a pleasant living environment. Biodiversity is therefore equally an issue of agriculture, forestry and urban development. People should be convinced on all fronts of the pressing need to protect the Earth's biodiversity, and they are aware of the role they have to play in this.
Effective protection hinges on taking citizens' and organisations' interests seriously and on nurturing and soliciting the input of these parties. It is, in fact, very good when people get involved in nature conservation, as this increases public support for policy. It is also smart to acknowledge that every situation is different. Therefore, there is no blueprint for effective protection. But a singular focus on economic arguments will not help us save our natural treasures.