Thoughts from influential nature conservationists…

Kara Moses

Career Highlights

My ‘career’, if you can call it that, has been incredibly diverse, from academic research as a primatologist, publishing books and articles as an environment journalist, developing curricula and pedagogical/educational approaches as an educator, shutting down fracking sites as an activist, restoring ancient woodlands as a forester and guiding habitat restoration projects as a chair and trustee – from the outside it could seem somewhat disjointed, but for me it describes a lifelong journey of protecting and honouring the natural world and our relationship with it in a holistic way.

I thrive on diversity, variation and challenge and love making use of my different skills and capacities in varied ways for nature – it helps me to stay balanced and inspired. A  week for me might include felling trees with a chainsaw, sitting at a computer writing an education program, delivering a foraging workshop to a group, and sitting in meetings discussing budgets.

It’s hard to single out highlights, but I’d probably say interviewing David Attenborough, conservation organisations in Madagascar using my research in their management plans, playing a part in stopping fracking in the UK, developing ‘radical nature connection’, and weirdly, turning down my dream PhD based on my own research, due to ethical concerns – an incredibly difficult decision but I know I’d have felt compromised and out of integrity if I’d have taken it.

Kara doing tracking in the Kalahari Desert.

How do you define nature conservation?

I’m interested in radical, systemic approaches that deconstruct power relations – between people and between species. So for me conservation needs to explicitly reject human supremacy and embrace queerness, decolonial thinking and anti-oppressive practice on all levels.

Traditional conservation is so often limited by single species focused, control-based and outcome-driven approaches; it’s based upon the reductionist mainstream scientific worldview with its many heterosexist assumptions, rigid categories and problematic binaries (such human/nature, natural/unnatural, rational/emotional, mind/body, male/female etc). Complexities of the world, reduced to simplistic opposites where one has greater value. This mode of thinking has long been used to denigrate expressions of human diversity as ‘against nature’ or ‘unnatural’ and legitimise oppression of sexual and gender diversity in particular (as well as other forms of diversity), and doesn’t actually reflect the true nature of things. 

Queer ecology is a critical lens that challenges these normative categories (and heteronormativity within ecology more broadly) and celebrates the diversity and complexities present in nature as it exists in a continuous state of being rather than fixed in rigid categories. It draws upon queer theory’s critique of gender- and sex-based hierarchies and applies this approach to ecological and evolutionary thinking. Queer ecology celebrates fluidity, diversity and complexity. It invites critical scrutiny of norms, binary distinctions, hierarchies, and power dynamics. By extension of this, it fundamentally rejects human exceptionalism and anthropocentrism, challenging human assumptions of and projections onto nature, especially ideas about which organisms, species, and individuals have value.

Conservation inevitably operates on a power differential between human and nonhuman animals. Human intervention is guided by notions of value chosen by humans and that often centre species’ value to humans – whether this is economic, ecological, or aesthetic value, or even the importance of nature connectedness for human wellbeing.

Rewilding approaches which are process-led rather than outcome-oriented are headed in the right direction, but when they stray into advocating for the erasure of culture and human activity in natural ecosystems, we find ourselves again in problematic power dynamics with neocolonial overtones. Rewilding, and conservation more broadly, instead need to embrace decolonial perspectives, bringing people into conversations about land rights, access, ownership, and how this relates to class, race and gender. 

I’m interested in what conservation would look like if, inspired by queer perspectives for example, it embraced fluidity and complexity, and critically reassessed power relations between human animals and non-human animals. If it extended this power analysis to within (and between) conservation organisations and local communities, recognising class, race and gender as lines along which power lies unevenly? What would it look like if we recognised the agency of non-human animals, of the landscape system itself?  If we took a truly systemic approach, considered people to be part of nature rather than separate from it, and all parts being of value and importance to the whole?  If we acknowledged the specific cultural context within which ‘nature conservation’ is even necessary – the political economy of ecological degradation and disconnection, and centuries of colonisation and domination, which must be addressed for any lasting change to happen.

Kara doing fieldwork around the Dynyn Housing Cooperative- felling conifers.

What’s the good news about wildlife and nature at present?

There are some initiatives, projects and ideas out there where some of these approaches are starting to gain traction. Young people, queer folk and people of colour are leading the way in this respect, and this excites me about the future. 

I’m currently working on a project with Common Cause Foundation called Queering Conservation: Rethinking Diversity – we’re working with a range of mainstream conservation organisations, academics and on the ground practitioners to explore ways queer ecological thought could improve conservation practice. 

There aren’t any known examples of this being implemented on the ground yet – it’s all quite new. But, to illustrate: female Laysan albatrosses practice same-sex relationships to raise their young. Under threat by rising sea levels, the albatrosses are starting to establish new colonies on higher ground. As females are more likely to leave their birth colony than males, understanding and supporting their same-sex partnerships will be vital to their conservation. Yet, despite many years of research, this behaviour wasn’t even detected until 2008.

If we start making these links, we might begin to bridge the gap between communities in conflict, groups with differing ideas about how to support non-human communities. To connect the energy of the flourishing rewilding movement with rural struggles for land rights reform and the commons, the politics of justice and equality, and radical environmental and economic reform. In doing so we may find much common ground and opportunities for solidarity – transformational solutions to a systemic problem.

Beyond the obvious of habitat loss and species decline, what’s your greatest concern in UK nature conservation at present?

Our relationship with the non-human world and the inequality of access to it. Our relationship with nature is so skewed, and we miss opportunities for co-operation and solidarity through conflict over which version of this distorted relationship we subscribe to. We have anthropocentrics on the one hand who think nature is there to serve us or needs us to manage it, and misanthropes on the other hand who think humans are an imposition on nature and should just leave wildlife alone.

Access to nature should be a basic human right, but instead it’s a privilege. The nature of our relationship with the non-human is affected by our race, class, gender and sexual orientation to mention but a few. Disconnection from nature affects our health and happiness but these effects are not felt equally, and opportunities for connection are not available equally. In the UK those with racial and economic privilege tend to enjoy greater access to (also higher quality) green space in the areas they live, which are also less likely to be highly polluted.

If you don’t have access, you can’t experience connection, and there’s now so much research that shows that people who don’t feel connected to nature are less motivated to protect it – so raising access levels for everyone is not only a social justice issue but a wildlife issue too.

Kara doing fieldwork around the Dynyn Housing Cooperative- pulling bracken.

If you had a limited budget on nature conservation in Britain, what would you prioritise and why? 

I’d devise a program of radicalising nature conservation education, bringing in systemic, queer and decolonial perspectives that created greater access to nature for marginalised communities, more effective landscape-scale conservation practice and enabled local communities to buy, own and manage land for restoration and nature-friendly food production. (It’s quite a big limited budget, right?)

How do you feel about your input to the subject – what if anything has it achieved and would you do it differently if starting again today?

I think it’s impossible to know what your efforts have achieved – the knock-on effects can be so unseen and unexpected. If there’s one thing I hope I’ve done it’s inspire others. That way your efforts can be carried far beyond your own limitations as an individual. I don’t know if there is anything I’d do differently – it’s all a learning journey.


moses, kara “ECOS Interviews: KARA MOSES” ECOS vol. 2024 , British Association of Nature Conservationists,

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