1 - Introduction: learning from experiences of participatory biodiversity assessment  pp. 1-29

Introduction: learning from experiences of participatory biodiversity assessment

By Anna Lawrence

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Introduction

A few years ago, curious to find out how individuals can bring about change in environmental policy, I arranged to meet volunteers who collect data about species distributions. My first interview was with a lively, successful group of volunteers in the south of England, who had developed a new approach for monitoring hedgerows. Ancient hedgerows are important for conservation in Britain, helping to maintain diversity of habitat, and connect up patches of otherwise isolated woodland. As a result of systematic surveys, some of them by volunteers, the British Government had changed the law and introduced incentives for farmers to replant them (in 1992), and regulations to protect them (in 1994).

Certainly the volunteers were enthusiastic about their successes and policy impact. But what they mostly wanted to talk about was the beauty of hedgerows, the pleasure they found in observing the variety in a line of trees, and the feeling that without the excuse of collecting data, they were being a little self-indulgent by spending time in nature. As one said, ‘It's nice, but as long as you do it with a purpose in mind and at the end of it you feel you've done something really quite good’.

Thousands of miles away, other people were collecting data about species, but these data had a more immediate effect on their lives. They were villagers in Karnataka, in southern India, who shared management of their forests with the state Forest Department.

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