Storytelling for conservation action

Using positive messages to bring people into action for nature

The IUCN Commission on Education and Communication (CEC) wants to promote the idea that when communicating about nature to the general public, we should not use messages of habitat loss, or species extinction. Such messages lead to apathy instead of action.

Positive messages are much more effective. People have an innate connection with nature. Deep down, most of us have a feeling of awe and wonder. Connecting with these emotions is the best strategy to bring people into action for conservation.

Reaching out to conservationists and communicators

The campaign is meant to raise awareness and change practices among conservationists and communicators.

CEC wants as many people as possible to see the campaign’s videos. However, they’ll be particularly relevant to biodiversity communicators and scientists working in areas of climate change, conservation, habitat management, ecology and wildlife. People who work:

  • as scientists
  • at nature NGOs, charities or lobbying groups
  • at government or UN agencies relevant to nature and conservation
  • media organizations
  • museums/zoos/other institutions
  • individual science communicators

Personlize, humanize and publicize

Appealing to positive emotions is much more effective in communicating nature, than providing facts and figures about loss and extinction. The way to appeal to positive emotions is by personalizing, humanizing and publicizing nature.

Telling a love story instead of a story about the end of the world

To explain what it means to personalize, humanize and publicize nature, the campaign uses the metaphor of ‘telling a love story’. The text below is from the campaign video. In the next topic you will find more more campaign tools and videos.

Once upon a time, nature and people were in love.
We lived close together – making the wild a part of our lives.
We loved the characters we found — we’re all animals after all.
And we talked about nature all the time – sharing stories of experiences and encounters.

But then something happened.
We lost our connection with nature.
Right now, we’re at a crossroads.
Either we carry on moving further and further away from nature, or we fall in love with it all over again.
It’s decision time.

The best way to rekindle a lost love is not to talk about what went wrong — extinction, habitat loss or resource scarcity.
It’s to remember what we loved in the first place.
The question is: how do we help people fall in love again?
Well, some nature organisations have already worked out how to tell love stories …

In Nicaragua, the local market demand for turtle eggs is threatening the survival of the specific species. Fauna & Flora International’s national collaborative media campaign I don’t eat turtle eggs, is solving this by taking children to the beach to release turtle hatchlings, and running a publicity campaign to make it feel unpatriotic to eat the eggs. This campaign is personalising nature. By building a personal connection between people and animals and making the issue locally relevant, the campaign has shifted public attitude across the country.

Tigers in the Sundarbans forest in Bangladesh are under threat from poachers and loggers. Wild Team’s solution, a campaign called Motherlike Sundarbans, repositions the forest as a mother figure for local communities. The campaign uses real stories from people who live in the area to show how they depend on the forest for food and protection. By humanising nature — talking about the forest in human terms — the campaign helps people to relate to it and the challenges it faces.

The UK is famous for its garden birds but many species are in decline. How do you engage people with something that’s getting harder and harder to see? The Big Garden Birdwatch gets the nation nature spotting together for one weekend in January. Using its huge network, The RSPB mobilises over five hundred thousand people to survey birds and in doing so raises awareness of millions more. The campaign works because it publicises positive actions to protect nature.

So what happens next in our story? Do people and nature fall back in love? It’s up to all of us to write the last chapter. If you want a happy ending for nature and people, it has to be a love story. Personalise. Humanise. Publicise. Starting now.