The Conservation Governance Lab is an interdisciplinary research group working to generate novel and creative approaches to assure the relevance and impact of conservation in the 21st century. The lab's identity is founded on the belief that significant applied insights lie at the interfaces of natural and social science, and of theory and practice. We work to generate richer conceptualisations of the actor, policy, financial, and management landscape of conservation, to further academic theory on conservation policy and practice, to strengthen conservation governance across space and time, and to develop a new generation of technologically-mediated conservation metrics. Our research revolves around long-term engagements with protected areas, wildlife trade and forest and landscape management policy, human-nature interactions and re-wilding.
The lab focuses on four central themes:
- Theory Development to Support Better Conservation Policy and Practice
We draw on conceptual tools from the environmental and social sciences to produce richer understandings of key concepts in conservation. Previously, we conceptualised extinction as a biophysical phenomenon and outlined a theory of avoided extinction (Ladle et al 2008, 2011), elaborated upon the role of non-humans in the production of conservation institutions and networks of action (Jepson et al 2011), presented a theory of flagship action (Jepson & Barua 2016), and framed protected areas as spatial assets with the potential to generate multiple forms of value (Jepson et al 2017). Building on these contributions, we are currently applying property rights and public goods theories to generate novel insights on ways to refinance protected area systems and move beyond political deadlock in wildlife trade governance.
- Exploring Conservation Governance across Space and Time
Through a range of case studies, we examine how, by whom, and by what, space and territory is governed in contemporary conservation. We pay particular attention to the rise and fall of different modes of conservation over time and space, drawing linkages between past, present and future practices. Previous research investigated the interplay between market approaches (FSC certification, REDD+) and institutional and cultural contexts across different governance levels (Buckingham and Jepson 2013; Mulyani and Jepson 2014). Current research focuses on the extent to which international frameworks, financial mechanisms, and actor networks, enable or constrain culturally attuned (or situated) modes of conservation governance, and how this effects conservation outcomes. Specifically, we have research projects investigating i) how different versions of rewilding are emerging and gaining traction (or otherwise) in different biophysical, institutional and cultural settings , ii) how international institutions attached to the CBD and it's parties can finance the cost of meeting and sustaining PA targets and iii) how CITES and related measures to regulate wild species trade interact with and are affected by frictions between different institutions, worldviews and geographical contexts.
- Mobilising Technological Affordances and Re-envisioning Conservation Governance Futures
A cross-cutting research theme concerns the implications of new technologies and the practices they produce for the future of conservation science and practice. This is inspired by the recognition that the internet and other technological advances affords the possibility for new and innovative approaches to governing ever increasing pressures on Earth systems in a rapidly changing world. A major and on-going research project of the lab is to develop and apply culturomic techniques to conservation (Ladle et al. 2017). To this end we have development techniques to generate metrics of cultural profiles of species and sites (a 'Panda' and a 'Yellowstone' Index) and models that explain what drives 'culturalness' (internet saliency) of these species (see link to publication list). We are currently developing and testing applications along with a theory of internet biogeography. Alongside this project we engage more broadly with discussions on the implications of technology through our teaching and through convening symposia and lecture series, for example a 2018 Technology Empowered Conservation lecture series.
- Recapitalising conservation
Another cross-cutting theme concerns the exploration of innovative mechanisms to meet the persistent global shortfall in finance for developing and implementing conservation policies. This initiative is part of the Sustainable Finance research programme at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment (SSEE) and represents SSEE in the Coalition for Private Investment in Conservation (CPIC). It builds on the Project for Protected Area Resilience (2014-2016) to address the financial resilience of conservation more generally. Our research currently includes a reassessment and reframing of the case for financing protected area systems from a public good perspective, and the design and exploration of novel approaches to conservation finance based on blockchain technologies.