Place-based conservation


On land, in the ocean and in freshwater systems, place-based conservation is a key strategy to support biodiversity and human well-being. However, these places are undergoing rapid change, due to climate change, shifting land-use practices, urbanization and population growth. Past conservation efforts, which focused on managing species or places in isolation to the surrounding landscape, are no longer sufficient to address threats that emerge from global or regional processes.

To halt biodiversity decline, place-based conservation must respond to current threats while preparing for long-term future change. This requires ‘adaptive governance’: planning and management that integrates knowledge of social and ecological context, enables action in the face of uncertainty and is adaptive to change. We focus on governance because the barriers to effective conservation practice often emerge from policies and practices that extend well beyond the site of a conservation project. Adaptive governance enables stakeholders to collaborate, learn and respond to social and ecological change.

The language of adaptive governance has been around in theory for some time. However, implementation in practice remains challenging. Further research is required to understand the connections between different types of governance and ecological outcomes, and the frameworks that will enable communities, public and private sector managers and government agencies to integrate diverse expertise into policy and planning. These challenges are exacerbated by the inherent uncertainties associated with global environmental change. As we look towards a future of novel ecological systems and constant change, planning and management frameworks that draw on experiential or scientific knowledge based on past ecosystems may no longer be relevant.


Our work on focuses on understanding how place-based conservation can maintain social and ecological values in the face of global environmental change. The goal of the workstream is:

To identify the knowledge and governance frameworks that ensure place-based conservation strategies maintain social and ecological benefits in the context of global environmental change.

The core research questions ask:

  • What is required to support conservation policy and practice that is ‘future-oriented’?
  • What knowledge and governance frameworks are required to anticipate and respond to global environmental change?
  • How do we improve our understanding of the connections between conservation strategies and social and ecological outcomes?

The theory of change for this workstream is based on the assumption place-based conservation requires: 1) approaches that are tailored to the social and ecological context; 2) governance processes that enable collaborative action and the negotiation of trade-offs; 3) the capacity to integrate local, traditional, experiential, and scientific knowledge; 4) and a shared vision of goals and objectives for the future.


Given the diversity of ecosystems, cultures and political systems around the world, place-based conservation practices are not readily transferable from one place to the next. However, to claim that all practices must emerge from a local context undermines our capacity to share insights and lessons to improve the effectiveness of conservation efforts around the world. This workstream will focus on developing transferable methodologies and participatory processes that enable conservation scientists, policy makers and practitioners to collectively navigate the challenges they face now and into the future.


Main image: Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei) silverback drunk on bamboo shoots Rwanda.  © / Andy Rouse / WWF

Luc Hoffmann InstitutePlace-based Conservation