a forest
  • Conservation initiatives must learn from the problems of forest protection
  • They need to include indigenous people’s dignity, rights and livelihoods
  • Burden of halting climate change should not fall on indigenous people
  • They are the least responsible for the current biodiversity and climate crisis

Global policy commitments on conservation such as the COP26 declaration on Forest and Land Use must inclusive of indigenous people and learn from the long and problematic history of forest conservation.

That is findings of an international consortium of indigenous scholar activists and social, cultural, environmental, and behavioural scientists in correspondence published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

The researchers argue that there is little evidence to show that traditional policy tools such as incentives, compensation and legal coercion are effective in securing sustainable land use.

In fact top-down conservation measures that do not take into account the realities and priorities of indigenous forest-dwelling communities can be very harmful and even accelerate deforestation and land degradation.

In Thailand a forest conservation plan has had the unintended consequence of declaring forest-dwelling communities “forest intruders”, with 18,000 cases of illegal forest trespassing recorded since 2014, often against people who have lived in the forest for more than 100 years. The conservation laws prevent the indigenous community from carrying out traditional environmental management practices, including rotational agriculture and animal grazing.

Highlighting the need for inclusive, heritage-sensitive, and behavioural conservation policy, the authors recommend that there should be local social impact assessments supported by satellite mapping in order to better understand the social and ecological consequences of conservation policies; that this evidence base should be overseen by an independent body and shared openly; and that indigenous scholar activists should be closely involved in the process.

Ivo Vlaev, Professor of Behavioural Science, stressed the critical role of the behavioural sciences intersecting this process.

He said: “Behavioural sciences need to inform the process of the open sharing of evidence of the social consequences of conservation, and thereby legitimise forest conservation actions that safeguard indigenous people’s livelihoods.

“We can nudge sharing of evidence; we can also inform appropriate forest conservation policies, which consider the psychological and economic impact on indigenous populations.”

Marco Haenssgen, lead investigator and consortium co-ordinator at the University of Warwick's Global Sustainable Development, added: “Halting deforestation to achieve climate change mitigation will depend on socially inclusive policy that safeguards indigenous people.

“Siloed and top-down solutions alone cannot achieve this balance. It requires consortia such as ours in which scholar activism, grounded knowledge of local realities, and cultural perspectives of indigenous heritage are just as critical for success as political science perspectives, behavioural policy mechanisms, and ecological research.”


Ivo Vlaev is Professor of Behavioural Science and teaches Behavioural Sciences for the Manager on the Executive MBA and Full-time MBA plus Judgement and Decision Making on the MSc Finance.

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