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CECAN Fellow: Richard Gunton

CECAN Fellowship: Evaluating Complex Motives for Nature Conservation in a Growing Economy – Applications to Defra’s RDPE and Agri-Environment Case Studies

Mentors: Sue Hartley, Adam Hejnowicz 

Development and conservation policies represent complex interventions in a complex policy domain and ought, but often fail, to explicitly accommodate social justice by taking into account a wide range of stakeholders’ values and concerns. Two central questions are interconnected: (i) how can policy-making be seen to promote social justice when evaluative decisions are made, and (ii) how can we evaluate how well policies are performing in this regard, in any given case? Both parts of this double challenge call for evaluation tools that can resolve the complexity of diverse interests and impacts into a manageable number of axes without losing important information, or marginalising stakeholders who lack economic or social status.

With a small team of researchers I have developed an “ecosystem valuing framework” designed to handle the complexity of diverse stakeholders’ interests where political decisions are to be made, especially in the context of evaluating a range of sites of ecological interest. This very novel framework extends the current mainstream ecosystem services paradigm and is outlined in a forthcoming article in Trends in Ecology & Evolution. The next step is now to test and refine the framework with real-world case-studies.

My guiding passion is to improve our relationship to our natural environment. My work seeks to help improve the management of farmland, nature reserves and other wild places in two ways: first by understanding why particular species of plants and animals occur where they do, and second by probing the philosophical frameworks that are used, consciously and unconsciously, in the practice of scientific research and the implementation of scientists’ advice. I am therefore also passionate about education: helping people engage with the world of ideas to arouse creativity and insight in a context of humility and wisdom.

My recent academic publications have used statistics, simulations and philosophical insights to understand the occurrence of parasitoids and rare arable weeds, to inform broad-scale conservation planning, to place sustainable intensification agendas in a global perspective, and to shed light on the philosophical structure of ecology. In 2017 a working group that I led published an Opinion piece in Trends in Ecology & Evolution entitled “Beyond Ecosystem Services: Valuing the Invaluable” which sets out an alternative framework for prioritising and assessing the protection of wild places.  This provides the focus for my CECAN Fellowship, which is looking at policy evaluation in the light of a multi-aspectual framework for understanding diverse stakeholders’ concerns and motives.

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