Andrew Balmford

Andrew Balmford is Professor of Conservation Science in the Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, where his main research interests are the costs and benefits of effective conservation, exploring how conservation might best be reconciled with land-demanding activities such as farming, the reasons why nature is being lost, and examining what works in conservation.

To have most impact he focuses his research in developing countries and collaborates closely with conservation practitioners and with colleagues in other disciplines, including economics and psychology. He helped establish the Cambridge Conservation Forum, the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and the annual Student Conference on Conservation Science.

He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2011, and since 2013 has served as a Trustee of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Europe’s largest conservation charity. His 2012 book Wild Hope highlights success stories in conservation and argues that cautious optimism is essential in tackling environmental challenges.

In conservation, we immerse ourselves in bad news. We document it, we cleverly investigate its causes and consequences, and we find ever more compelling ways to communicate it to the outside world. We need to: conveying the stark realities facing nature is vital. But most people hearing that message still don’t translate it into changes in their own lives. I think that’s in part because they believe that the continued erosion of the living world is an unavoidable downside of the human enterprise. As conservationists, we’ve made people painfully aware, but then given them no prospect that things can be turned around -just a dismal choice between despair and denial.

Yet in spite of the enormity of the challenges facing wild nature, conservation can and does work. Dorset heathlands – the subject of the first ever detailed investigation of habitat loss – is now being restored. On Mauritius, once home to the dodo, a heroic programme to save the island’s kestrel has restored the population from just four individuals in 1974 to over 800 adults today. While we’ve perhaps halved the populations of wild species and the areas of habitat where they live, on average the glass is still roughly half-full. Contrary to what we might think, more than half the tropical rainforest still stands. Most coral reefs remain. More than a billion people notwithstanding, India continues to be inhabited by leopards and bears, crocodiles and wolves. Africa has more mountain gorillas now than when I was my sons’ age. Given half a chance, nature endures.

A great deal, of course, has been lost, but there’s also a great deal left to fight for. And of all the weapons we must marshal to slow and reverse nature’s loss, the most potent by far is hope.

Andrew Balmford