ECOS 39 (2): Editorial: Identity Crisis?

Editorial by

Geoffrey Wain

People think differently and people have varied outlooks. So what? Does it really matter that there are different camps, with a mix of concerns about the natural world and how it is managed? At one level this diversity can be helpful. More organisations and movements result in more noise, presenting a range of arguments and a collective voice for defending nature. But there is a paradox at the heart of our subject – are we all united? Are we struggling for the same things in the name of nature conservation, or do our interests clash and compete more than they complement?

Across the broad church of conservation we can even struggle to agree the definition and the scope of nature itself. When we actively manage, restore and create pockets of nature, there are different priorities amongst us and some very different starting points. Some people fight for species, others consider whole habitats, some like to micro-manage, others prefer minimal intervention. There is no right or wrong in the different ways we conceptualise and care for nature, or the ways we study and celebrate it. The appearance of our woods, meadows and heaths reflects our varied tastes and preferences as much as the environmental conditions in any particular place.

The tribes amongst nature conservation work at many levels. They can manifest as the niche causes we represent, the identities we take on, and the values we place on parts of nature. We can readily find our respective tribes and our fellow travellers through their guises on social media, and we learn, swap notes and bicker across our tribes through the digital world.

This edition looks at some main examples of tribes that crop up in nature and countryside management. Bill Adams reminds us that there are varied outlooks, perhaps hosting a wealth of expertise, even within the presumed safety of our local groups which champion wildlife. We see nature through our particular bias, and can each feel our concern is uppermost when it might even be off the radar to others. At a bigger scale, Adrian Phillips charts the history of two parallel super-tribes which acted as State agencies for nature and the land, now merged and reincarnated as Natural England. Is it remarkable or inevitable that they evolved from such contrasting paradigms and value systems? And even amongst two large government bodies, whole swathes of interests in nature might feel unrepresented. The game sectors especially, but also vibrant constituencies such as bushcraft and wilderness therapy. The way we structure and fund our nature and environment-based agencies will constantly be in flux, at the mercy of national tribal politics. Adrian Phillips’ insights suggest that even when directions are set within an agency, the internal tribes can hijack and influence so much of the action.

ECOS is about commentary and discussion, rather than advocacy. We are unlikely to get blatantly tribal. Part of our particular identity is our lack of identity – a home for multi-disciplinary thought and a recognition that nature is cross-cutting in themes and topics. A message from this edition is to recognise our differences and respect them, and in the traditions of ECOS and BANC, be prepared to have our assumptions challenged. Being challenged can hopefully be more of a help than a hassle – a way of keeping tribes alert and curious rather than complacent and dogmatic.

ECOS 39(2)


Identity Crisis?
Geoffrey Wain


Feature articles

Safety in numbers
Gavin Saunders

50 years of tribal warfare 
Adrian Phillips

A tribe of dreamers:  Story, ceremony and the land   
Annie Spencer

Conservation by committee   
Bill Adams

Book Reviews

Few and Far Between

Understanding Animal Behaviour


Wain, Geoffrey “ECOS 39 (2): Editorial: Identity Crisis?” ECOS vol. 39(2), 2018, British Association of Nature Conservationists,

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