Forests and biodiversity are dwindling at shocking rates and the world is failing at stemming the tide. The way we do and think about ‘conservation’ is to blame and needs a radical shift. Mainstream, western-led conservation efforts centre on creating ‘protected areas’, which in much of the Global South involves pushing indigenous and local communities off their ancestral lands and criminalising their traditional way of life. This is causing them long-lasting harm, from food insecurity and land conflict to the erosion of their cultural identity. They also face severe human rights abuses at the hands of heavily armed, aid-funded park rangers tasked with enforcing park boundaries.
This ‘fortress conservation’ approach is premised on the dangerous yet persistent idea that local people need to be separated from nature to keep it “pristine” (sometimes for the benefit of foreign tourists). This does not only drive human rights violations but is also ineffective as it ignores and alienates the very people who have shaped and stewarded those landscapes for millennia.
The best way to conserve forests is to protect the rights of those who live in and depend on them. This view is backed by a growing body of scientific evidence showing that indigenous peoples and local communities do better than governments at protecting against deforestation and biodiversity loss, and they do so far more cost-effectively.
The way forward requires a new model of conservation that puts these people front and centre. This means providing redress for the harms inflicted on the in the name of protecting nature and strong protections and oversight to avoid future abuses. State-managed, exclusionary protected areas need to become a thing of the past and replaced by rights-based, community-led approaches, based on the full recognition of forest communities' rights to lands and resources, their right to self-determination and their traditional knowledge.
What we're doing
- Working hand-in-hand with our local partners, we document and expose the harms endured by communities living around protected areas across the Congo Basin. Our investigations around DRC’s Salonga National Park led to the first of its kind conviction of rangers in DRC and triggered a wave of global reforms in the way that biodiversity conservation is funded.
- We hold conservation NGOs, national governments and international donors to account on their failings, help victims seek redress and advocate for reforms to prevent future abuses.
- On the ground, we help elevate communities’ voices in protected area management, such as in DRC’s Lomami National Park. We also strive to find and support alternative conservation solutions that are genuinely rights-based and community-driven.