Conservation efforts that have led to surging wolf numbers in Europe; the release of a group of Britain’s rarest lizards into the wild and a bridge of thousands of trees planted to reunite troops of gibbons separated by a railway line in India are some of the conservation success stories routinely shared by Conservation Optimism.
The global conservation movement, which is dedicated to inspiring and empowering people to make a positive difference, says wild nature is rapidly declining and the Earth’s life-support systems are under increasing stress. As nature erodes and the response of human systems proves inadequate or outright destructive, it can seem as if the only rational response is despair.
“Yet, if you zoom in from the big picture, a mosaic appears; in among the stories of loss there are inspiring stories of regeneration and positive change, with nature making a difference in people’s lives, and people valuing and nurturing their natural environment,” Conservation Optimism says.
These are key to securing the planet’s future. “We need to learn from them, replicate them and thereby build a world in which nature and people can coexist. Our mission is telling these stories of conservation optimism — large and small — to inspire change.”
Ultimately, Conservation Optimism wants the effect of this work to lead to improved trends for species and ecosystems around the world.
Julia Migné, director of the conservation group, told the Mail & Guardian that it started as a once-off event in 2017, led by Eleanor Jane Milner-Gulland, the Tasso Leventis professor of biodiversity, at the University of Oxford.
“The idea behind the 2017 Conservation Optimism summit was to bring together practitioners, academics and artists to share stories of success from the conservation sector and to shift the narrative away from the doom and gloom that is so often being used when it comes to communicating about environmental challenges,” she said.
“The event ended up being so successful that the appetite for the concept of conservation optimism grew with more and more people using the #ConservationOptimism to share stories of hope on Twitter and it became a global movement.”
Since then, the organisation has “grown tremendously” and is now running an annual short film festival, producing a podcast series titled Good Natured and is working in collaboration with numerous organisations.
The work is focused around four pillars: transforming conservation storytelling, supporting and equipping conservationists, celebrating “diverse changemakers” and fostering a sense of wellbeing and community.
“While it’s true that we are facing many environmental challenges, focusing only on the negative and framing conservation stories in a doom and gloom way can leave people feeling disempowered and hopeless,” says Migné.
“Instead, we encourage a solution-based approach when it comes to storytelling and showcase what people are doing to make the situation better.”
When the Covid-19 pandemic started, she adds, there was a surge of new followers on social media, “which could be linked to a craving for positive news in a time that was definitely challenging and gloomy”.
“Working in the environmental sector can be hard mentally when you’re faced with species becoming extinct and habitats being destroyed, so knowing that there is this source of positive news a few clicks away can be helpful when things get tough.
“That’s also for that reason that we do regular training sessions with students and young conservationists to create this community of people who have the tools they need to reframe the narrative but also who can support each other throughout their careers.”