Biodiversity is being lost at an unprecedented rate, making the conservation movement of critical importance for life on Earth. However, recent debates over the future of conservation have been polarized, acrimonious and dominated by an unrepresentative demographic group. The views of the wider global conservation community on fundamental questions regarding what, why and how to conserve are unknown. Here we characterize the views of 9,264 conservationists from 149 countries, identifying specific areas of consensus and disagreement, and three independent dimensions of conservation thinking. The first two dimensions (people-centred conservation and science-led ecocentrism) have widespread support, whereas conservation through capitalism is more contentious. While conservationists’ views on these three dimensions do not fall into distinct clusters, there are clear relationships between dimension scores and respondents’ gender, age, educational background, career stage and continent of nationality. Future debates and policy processes should focus on the most contentious issues, and do more to include the perspectives of under-represented groups in conservation who may not share the views of those in more powerful positions.

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Data availability

The datasets generated and/or analysed during the current study are not publicly available, to maintain the respondent anonymity that was a condition of the ethical approval of the study (University of Leeds Research Ethics Committee reference LTSEE-054). All data gathered are stored securely and anonymously by UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre. Please see http://futureconservation.org/about-the-project for full details of the Future of Conservation project’s ethics and data security protocols.

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We thank all those who assisted with the piloting of the survey instrument, all respondents to the main survey, the Informatics team at UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre for building the survey website and B. Adams and D. Juffe Bignoli for comments on the draft manuscript.

Author information


  1. University of Cambridge, Department of Geography, Cambridge, UK

    • Chris Sandbrook
    •  & Rogelio Luque-Lora
  2. UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge, UK

    • Chris Sandbrook
  3. School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

    • Janet A. Fisher
    •  & Aidan Keane
  4. School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK

    • George Holmes


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C.S., J.A.F and G.H. conceived the project and designed the survey. C.S., J.A.F., G.H. and R.L.-L. wrote text for the survey website and promoted its uptake. A.K. analysed the data. All authors wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Chris Sandbrook.

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    Supplementary Notes, Supplementary Tables 1–4, Supplementary Figs. 1–6.

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