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Understanding the state we are in

Examining The State of Nature report from a values perspective.

The State of Nature Report certainly hit the headlines and managed get a large amount of coverage.

However, the extent of coverage is only one way to measure the impact of this report. A more important question to answer is what impact the report and its associated coverage have are likely to have on the motivation on the people who saw the coverage. In the following case study we attempt to assess these likely impacts.

To get the most out of the following analysis we suggest that you read the CCFN practitioners guide first or read this first.

For ease of understanding we have split up the report and associated coverage into the following sections:

  1. The Launch Video
  2. The Main Report
  3. The Executive Summary
  4. The letter to Cameron
  5. Social media coverage
  6. General press coverage
  7. Iolo Williams talk at the launch

1) The Launch Video

We Loved:

The use of loads of awe inspiring footage of wildlife that highlights the beauty and wonder of nature, this is likely to engage the intrinsic values associated with universalism.

Although, the report itself contains stark messages of decline the video was great because it chose to concentrate on what is exciting and inspiring about nature instead.

What we would consider changing:

  • Not a lot, as the video was purely about highlighting the existence of the report it does not necessarily matter that it didn’t highlight causes of conservation problems or there solutions.

  • The only thing we would change would be to make the video easier to find so more people can enjoy it!

2) The Main Report

http://www.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/science/stateofnature/index.aspx

We Loved:

Considering the bleak messages contained in the report we thought the document did quite a good job of not dwelling on threat too much. We also liked the fact that the early sections had several of references to the intrinsic value of nature and its importance to people, these are likely to engage the intrinsic values of universalism.

“Wherever you are in the UK, an exciting encounter with nature is never far away; be it the sight of an azure hawker dragonfly skimming over a Scottish bog pool, a pod of common bottlenose dolphins frolicking in the waters of Cardigan Bay, or the world’s fastest bird, the peregrine falcon, stooping to catch prey above the Tate Modern in London.

There has always been a special connection between people and nature and it continues to enrich our lives and inspire each new generation.”

We also liked the text that highlight the links between people and wildlife and emphasise the importance of working together – these are likely to engage the intrinsic values of benevolence.

“This report carries a message of hope: targeted conservation has produced a legacy of inspiring success stories and, with sufficient determination, resources and public support, we can, and will, turn the fortunes of our wildlife around. It also serves to illustrate that with shared resolve we can save nature.”

What we would consider changing:

More detail about what the causes of the problems are. Although there are some references to causes in the document they are never given a sufficient level of detail to easily link them to a solution.  We understand that there are sensitivities within the conservation sector about highlighting certain issues – farming being a key area of disagreement. However, if the function of the report is to raise awareness then research has shown that connecting a problem to a cause is important in embedding it in people’s consciousness.

A collective solution. Although the need for this was talked about (see quote above), details about what actually needs to be done are scarce. Again we understand the difficulties in agreeing on a number of core solutions. However simply highlighting a problem and not giving a clear solution is more likely to cause anxiety and fear. In the main document there were some ideas about what an individual could to help but these were small in comparison to the huge scale of decline. Research also suggests that if the solution doesn’t match the scale of the threat then people will feel unwilling to act. For this reason it is best to link the small things an individual can do with the larger actions that are needed and explain how they can be part of these.

As the objective of the report was to raise awareness of the problem a practical compromise might have been to have a joint statement from the partners saying something like. “Today we have highlighted a problem but over the next year we will be working together to help find practical actions that, with the active involvement of government and the public, will help nature recover and flourish”

3) The Executive Summary

http://www.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/science/stateofnature/index.aspx

We Loved:

This quote: “We should act to save nature both for its intrinsic value and for the benefits it brings to us that are essential to our wellbeing and prosperity.”

It is good because it is highlighting natures inherent value (appealing to intrinsic) and it uses the broad term prosperity rather than saying “it contributes to the economy” which is more likely to appeal to extrinsic values.

What we would consider changing:

  • Adding an opening paragraph highlighting how amazing and inspiring nature is and that it means so much to so many people as this is likely to help engage the intrinsic values of universalism.

  • More specifics about the causes – Climate change was the only one named, while general habitat destruction was cited the reason for this destruction wasn’t.

  • Solutions, or something tangible and proportionate to the scale of the problem an individual can do after reading it.

  • Added a picture of nature or wildlife to emphasis its intrinsic value and help engage the with the intrinsic values of universalism.

4) Letter to Cameron

The partners involved in the state of nature report wrote a joint letter to David Cameron.

We Loved: 

  • A collective response from the partner organisations involved.

  • An attempt to link the report to some tangible action

What we would consider changing:

The letter could have been a lot clearer about what action is actually needed.

5) Social media coverage

We Loved:

The idea of bringing people together the day after the report launch to discuss what could be done. Being open to the ideas and work of others is likely to appeal to the intrinsic values of self-direction.

What we would consider changing:

The focus of the twitter discussion was to build on the findings and coverage of the report and get people to together to discuss what could be done. The hashtag chosen on twitter was #naturesintrouble, given the fact that the debate was about positive action we would have chosen either something more neutral such as #stateofnature or ideally something much more positive like #savenaturetogether. While this might seem pedantic to some the hashtag was used repeatedly and is likely to have been an unconscious reinforcement of threat. While this might be hard to believe studies have shown that even single words can have significant impacts on people’s behaviour. We are not saying that we should never use threat, it is important in highlighting the urgency of issues, it is just important that we take all opportunities to balance this against positive actions that can be taken.

6) General Press Coverage

We Loved:

That lots of people were talking about nature in the media and the issue was portrayed as an issue that we should all care about.

We liked this quote from David Attenborough used in some of the coverage, it is likely to engage the intrinsic values of universalism:

“We should all be proud of the beauty we find on our own doorstep; from bluebells carpeting woodland floors and delicately patterned fritillary butterflies, to the graceful basking shark and the majestic golden eagle soaring over the Scottish mountains. Our species are in trouble, with many declining at a worrying rate, but we have a network of passionate conservation groups supported by millions of people who love wildlife.

Television and web coverage was full of inspiring images of wildlife that are likely to engage intrinsic values.

What we would consider changing:

Much of the discussion was about threat and we would have liked to see more emphasis on causes and solutions. The term used in much of the coverage was that the state of things were “depressing”.  If the messages in the media were primarily of threat and decline what do you think the people who read, watched or heard the news felt as a result? – did they know what to do as a response? Were they likely to feel inspired and ready to act, or feel slightly overwhelmed?

This is not to say that all use of threat should be avoided, threat is necessary to highlight the gravity of the situation we face and raise awareness about the need to act. In some, anger can even motivate people to act. However, unless threat is accompanied by clarity about the causes of the problems, what the solutions are, and details about how people can contribute people are unlikely to feel motivated by such press coverage.

7) Iolo Williams talk at the launch

We loved:

Iolo Williams emotive and personal talk, it was so good to hear him talk about his own childhood connection with nature. The speech was powerful and moving and ended on a call to action. There was no doubt that the speaker valued nature highly.

What we would consider changing:

If we were being coldly analytical we might say he emphasized threat and despair a little too much. However, this was a powerful and moving personal story and he did balance things at the end with a call to action.

Ralph UnderhillUnderstanding the state we are in

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