The Evidence Strikes Back — What Works 2017

16 01 2017
Bat gantry on the A590, Cumbria, UK. Photo credit: Anna Berthinussen

Bat gantry on the A590, Cumbria, UK. Photo credit: Anna Berthinussen

Tired of living in a world where you’re constrained by inconvenient truths, irritating evidence and incommodious facts? 2016 must have been great for you. But in conservation, the fight against the ‘post-truth’ world is getting a little extra ammunition this year, as the Conservation Evidence project launches its updated book ‘What Works in Conservation 2017’.

Conservation Evidence, as many readers of this blog will know, is the brainchild of conservation heavyweight Professor Bill Sutherland, based at Cambridge University in the UK. Like all the best ideas, the Conservation Evidence project is at once staggeringly simple and breathtakingly ambitious — to list every conservation intervention ever cooked up around the world, and see how well, in the cold light of evidence, they actually worked. The project is ongoing, with new chapters of evidence added every year grouped by taxa, habitat or topic — all available for free on www.conservationevidence.com.

What Works in Conservation’ is a book that summarises the key findings from the Conservation Evidence website, and presents them in a simple, clear format, with links to where more information can be found on each topic. Experts (some of us still listen to them, Michael) review the evidence and score every intervention for its effectiveness, the certainty of the evidence and any harmful side effects, placing each intervention into a colour coded category from ‘beneficial’ to ‘likely to be ineffective or harmful.’ The last ‘What Works’ book included chapters on birds, bats, amphibians, soil fertility, natural pest control, some aspects of freshwater invasives and farmland conservation in Europe; new for 2017 is a chapter on forests and more species added to freshwater invasives.

Conservation EvidenceThis book should sit on the desk of every conservationist, whether you’re struggling with stonecrop or lobbying to legislators. It is a reminder that good intentions are not enough in conservation. Some conservation ideas, sadly, are just less equal than others once tested in the field. We have limited time, money and effort with which to save biodiversity; we need to throw them at the solutions that are most likely to have the biggest possible impact. While this all seems obvious, it is still not always translated into practice. I could rant and rave about bat bridges for days (and often do); despite being shown not to work here — and again more recently here — they are still the ‘go to’ solution to ‘mitigate’ against the effects of roads on bats in the UK. Sadly, just because we want something to work, doesn’t mean it does.

So buy the book, download it for free or use the Conservation Evidence website to check out whether your plan of action is as solidly supported as providing nest boxes for songbirds, or as lacking in published evidence as introducing nest boxes stocked with solitary bees. Whatever you do this New Year, do it with evidence. We’ve seen what happens when the truth is ignored.

Claire Wordley


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