Balancing making a difference with making a living in the conservation sector

Estimated associations between conservationist satisfaction with goal progress and explanatory variables among 2336 survey respondents (points, mean of the posterior distribution on the log-odds scale; bars, 95% credibility intervals; cross-cutting, encompassing terrestrial and marine biomes). Dispositional optimism, years in conservation, and work hours are scaled and centered. Thresholds, goal name, and response categories corresponding to missing data are not shown

Pienkowski, T., Keane, A., Castelló y Tickell, S., Hazenbosch, M., Arlidge, W. N. S., Baranyi, G., Brittain, S., de Lange, E., Khanyari, M., Papworth, S., & Milner-Gulland, E. J. (2022). Balancing making a difference with making a living in the conservation sector. Conservation Biology. 36, e13846.


Goals play important roles in people’s lives because they focus attention, mobilize effort, and sustain motivation. Understanding conservationists’ satisfaction with goal progress may provide insights into real-world environmental trends and flag risks to their well-being and motivation. We asked 2694 conservationists working globally how satisfied they were with progress toward goals important to them. We then explored how this satisfaction varied among groups, including demographic and occupational. Finally, we looked at respondents’ experiences associated with goal-progress satisfaction. Many (94.0%) indicated that making a meaningful contribution to conservation was an important goal for them, and over half were satisfied or very satisfied in this area (52.5%). However, respondents were generally dissatisfied with progress on collective conservation goals (e.g., stopping species loss). Some groups were more likely to report dissatisfaction than others. For instance, those in conservation for longer tended to be less satisfied with collective goal progress (log odds –0.21, 95% credibility interval [CI] –0.32 to –0.10), but practitioners reported greater satisfaction (log odds 0.38, 95% CI 0.15–0.60). Likewise, those who were more optimistic in life (log odds 0.24, 95% CI 0.17–0.32), male (log odds 0.25, 95% CI 0.10–0.41), and working in conservation practice (log odds 0.25, 95% CI 0.08–0.43) reported greater satisfaction with individual goal progress. Free-text responses suggested widespread dissatisfaction with livelihood goals, particularly related to job security and adequate compensation. Although contributing to conservation appeared to be a source of satisfaction, slow goal progress in other areas––particularly around making a living––looked to be a source of distress and demotivation. Employers, funders, professional societies, and others should consider ways to help those in the sector make a difference while making a satisfactory living by, for example, prioritizing conservationists′ well-being when allocating funding. This support could include avoiding exploitative practices, fostering supportive work environments, and celebrating positive outcomes.

Personal traits predict conservationists’ optimism about outcomes for nature

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Figure 2: Expectations about conservation outcomes in the next 10 years. The perceived likelihood that 10 nationally focused conservation outcomes indicative of the five Strategic Goals (A–E) of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Aichi Biodiversity Targets (SO-1 to SO-10), and locally focused goals (SO-11), will be met by 2030 (CBD, 2010). Respondents were asked to think about the country whose conservation context they were most familiar with when evaluating the 10 nationally focused outcomes. Respondents were asked to think about the specific conservation area or context they were most familiar with when evaluating the locally focused goals

In the face of unprecedented biodiversity loss, the belief that conservation goals can be met could play an important role in ensuring they are fulfilled. We asked conservationists how optimistic they felt about key biodiversity outcomes over the next 10 years; 2341 people familiar with conservation in 144 countries responded. Respondents expressed optimism that enabling conditions for conservation would improve but felt pressures would continue, and the state of biodiversity was unlikely to get better. Respondents with greater general optimism about life, at early-career stages, and working in practice and policy (compared to academia) reported higher conservation optimism. But most of our biodiversity and conservation status indicators were not associated with conservation optimism. Unbounded optimism without appropriate action would be misguided in the face of growing threats to biodiversity. However, supporting those struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel could help sustain efforts to overcome these threats.

Pienkowski, T., Keane, A., de Lange, E., Khanyari, M., Arlidge, W. N. S., Baranyi, G., Brittain, S., Castelló y Tickell, S., Hazenbosch, M., Papworth, S., & Milner-Gulland, E. J.Personal traits predict conservationists’ optimism about outcomes for nature. Conservation Letters. 2022; 00 e12873.