Making more effective use of human behavioural science in conservation interventions

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Electronic versions


  • R1clean_BC manuscript

    Accepted author manuscript, 661 KB, PDF document

    Embargo ends: 23/07/23

    Licence: CC BY-NC-ND Show licence


  • Andrew Balmford
    University of Cambridge
  • Richard B Bradbury
    University of Cambridge
  • Jan M. Bauer
    Copenhagen Business School
  • Steven Broad
  • Gayle Burgess
  • Mark A. Burgman
    Imperial College London
  • Hilary Byerly
    University of Colorado
  • Susan Clayton
    The College of Wooster
  • Dulce Espelosin
    Center for Behavior & the Environment
  • Paul J. Ferraro
    Johns Hopkins University
  • Brendan Fisher
    The University of Vermont
  • Emma E. Garnett
    University of Cambridge
  • J.P.G. Jones
  • Theresa M. Marteau
    University of Cambridge
  • Mark Otieno
    University of Würzburg
  • Stephen Polasky
    University of Minnesota
  • Taylor H. Ricketts
    The University of Vermont
  • Chris Sandbrook
    University of Cambridge
  • Kira Sullivan-Wiley
    Boston University
  • Rosie Trevelyan
    Tropical Biology Association, Cambridge
  • Sander van der Linden
    University of Cambridge
  • Diogo Verissimo
    University of Oxford
  • Kristian Steensen Nielsen
    University of Cambridge
Conservation is predominantly an exercise in trying to change human behaviour – whether that of consumers whose choices drive unsustainable resource use, of land managers clearing natural habitats, or of policymakers failing to deliver on environmental commitments. Yet conservation research and practice have made only limited use of recent advances in behavioural science, including more novel behaviour change interventions. Instead conservationists mostly still rely on traditional behaviour change interventions – education, regulation and material incentivisation – largely without applying recent insights from behavioural science about how to improve such approaches. This paper explores how behavioural science could be more widely and powerfully applied in biodiversity conservation. We consider the diverse cast of actors involved in conservation problems and the resulting breadth of behaviour change that conservationists might want to achieve. Drawing on health research, we present a catalogue of types of interventions for changing behaviour, considering both novel, standalone interventions and the enhancement of more traditional conservation interventions. We outline a framework for setting priorities among interventions based on their likely impact, using ideas developed for climate change mitigation. We caution that, despite its promise, behavioural science is not a silver bullet for conservation. The effects of interventions aimed at changing behaviour can be modest, temporary, and context-dependent in ways that are as-yet poorly understood. We therefore close with a call for interventions to be tested and the findings widely disseminated to enable researchers and practitioners to build a much-needed evidence base on the effectiveness and limitations of these tools.
Original languageEnglish
Article number109256
JournalBiological Conservation
Early online date23 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021
View graph of relations