Mind the Information Gap: New Study Maps Evidence of Conservation Impacts on Human Well-being

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Researchers from Conservation International, UCLA, the University of Exeter Medical School, The Nature Conservancy, University of Illinois and the World Bank find Health Concerns and Cultural Values are Among the Least-explored Impacts of Nature Conservation

Researchers highlight the merits of a new technique to ensure research findings are more visible and accessible, reveals an article released in Nature today.

Focusing on nature conservation efforts and their links to human well-being, an international team of experts from the field of conservation, evidence synthesis and international development has developed an ‘evidence map’ that compiles information on policy impacts within existing studies, synthesizes key trends and highlights areas in need of further work.

The approach has been led by a Science for Nature and People (SNAP) Partnership working group which includes researchers from Conservation International, UCLA, the University of Exeter Medical School, The Nature Conservancy, University of Illinois and the World Bank.

With thousands of reports produced every year assessing the effects of different policies and programs, worrying evidence suggests that much of this valuable information is never read.

This new approach seeks to redress this trend by providing maps for wayfaring researchers and policy makers, signposting sources of evidence to ensure we make use of ever-mounting analyses.

The authors located and categorized more than 1000 primary research studies that document relationships between nature conservation policies and programs and human well-being including economic and material outcomes, health, education, culture and social relations to create an interactive tool that easily aggregates these data, confirms well-studied linkages, and highlights prominent gaps. The team found that while over 25% of studies examined the linkages between protected areas and economic well-being, fewer than 2% evaluated impacts on human health.

The evidence map (available here) shows the number of studies undertaken on certain nature conservation initiatives and their effects on human well-being, in order to better aggregate relevant scientific evidence on policy and program impacts. The map depicts the number of studies concerning initiatives like area protection and resource management and corresponding well-being outcomes such as education and social capital. The researchers found that human health concerns and cultural values are among the least-studied impacts of conservation on people.

“The current evidence on the impacts and effectiveness of conservation policies is scattered, unfocused and inaccessible to those who need it,” said Dr. Madeleine McKinnon, Senior Director for Monitoring and Evaluation at Conservation International. “The map provides researchers and policymakers a picture of what has and has not been studied in regard to the connection between conservation and human well-being.”

“Providing evidence for the linkage between nature conservation and human well-being is a cornerstone of the Science for Nature and People partnership,” said Craig Groves, Executive Director of the SNAP Partnership. “Using the evidence map, we can better identify new SNAP working groups that may be able to fill in the gaps where little information exists and evaluate the nature of the relationships between conservation interventions and human well-being.”

“There are increasing numbers of studies and reports on environmental initiatives and policy, but these can be hard to locate and it may be difficult to establish the best ones to use,” said Ruth Garside, Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School. “By identifying and categorizing existing evidence and presenting it in a concise form, those who need it can rapidly find and use it; so to better target and coordinate research and practice.”

Already seeing the value of the information synthesized by this study, in a second phase of the SNAP Evidence-based Conservation working group, the World Bank is planning to use the evidence on forest biomes and poverty linkages to better inform their strategic decisions. “Demonstration of this tool is especially timely as the international community grapples with how best to achieve the recently launched Sustainable Development Goals,” said Daniel Miller, Assistant Professor of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois and former World Bank Program on Forests (PROFOR) staff member. “Evidence maps like the one we’ve created can provide vital input into policy processes about what works and under what conditions and also help track progress toward shared goals.” By making this evidence map available to other researchers and decision makers SNAP opens the door to better understanding the effects of conservation impacts on other areas of sustainability such as renewable energy and food security, to name a few.

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Learn more at http://www.snap.is/groups/evidence-based-conservation/evidence-map/ and http://www.conservation.org/projects/Pages/Betty-and-Gordon-Moore-Center-for-Science-and-Oceans.aspx
For more information, contact:
Kevin Connor, Media Manager, Conservation International
Office +1 703 341 2405/ mobile +1 410 868 1369/ email kconnor(at)conservation.org

Chase Martin, Media Coordinator, Conservation International
Office +1 703 341 2823/ mobile +1 678 983 5837/ email cmartin(at)conservation.org

Junji Nishihata, Consultant, Browning & Associates (B&A)
Mobile +1 514-839-7030 / email junji(at)browningpr.com

Alex Smalley, Communications Manager, European Centre for Environment & Human Health Office +44 (0)1872 258135 / email a.j.smalley(at)exeter.ac.uk / web http://www.ecehh.org

About Conservation International (CI)
Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global biodiversity for the well-being of people. Founded in 1987, CI is headquartered in the Washington, D.C. area and employs more than 800 staff in 30 countries on six continents, and has nearly 1,000 partners around the world. For more information, please visit our website at: http://www.conservation.org/ or visit us on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

About the Science for Nature and People partnership
Founded in 2013, the Science for Nature and People (SNAP) partnership is the world’s premier innovation engine of conservation science and sustainable development policy, partnering with public, non-profit and private sector organizations around the world to transform the relationship between people and nature. Backed by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at the University of California, Santa Barbara, SNAP funds, convenes and supports expert Working Groups addressing challenges in four focus areas: Food Security and Nature, Water Security and Nature, Community Resilience and Climate Change, and Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity Benefits. For more information, visit http://www.snap.is

About the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at University of Exeter Medical School
The European Centre for Environment and Human Health (http://www.ecehh.org) is a cutting edge research hub based at the University of Exeter’s Truro Campus in Cornwall, UK.

It is part of the University of Exeter Medical School, an institution that is improving health through the development of high quality graduates and world-leading research with international impact.

As part of a Russell Group university, we combine this world-class research with very high levels of student satisfaction. The University of Exeter Medical School’s Medicine programme is ranked 7th in the Guardian University Guide 2015. Exeter has over 19,000 students and is ranked 7th in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide league table, and 10th in The Complete University Guide and 12th in the Guardian University Guide 2015. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), the University ranked 16th nationally, with 98% of its research rated as being of international quality. Exeter’s Clinical Medicine research was ranked 3rd in the country, based on research outputs that were rated world-leading. Public Health, Health Services and Primary Care research also ranked in the top ten, in joint 9th for research outputs rated world-leading or internationally excellent. Exeter was The Sunday Times University of the Year 2012-13. http://www.exeter.ac.uk/medicine

About the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (NRES) in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois (http://nres.illinois.edu) is an interdisciplinary unit in applied sciences that brings biological, physical, and social scientists together to identify, teach, and publicize solutions for the sustainability of urban, managed, and natural ecosystems from the local to global scale. NRES faculty members represent a unique mix of disciplines including applied ecology, soil science, and environmental social sciences. This diversity fosters a deep understanding of the complexities of modern environmental issues and their solutions.

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Conservation International
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