India, being rich in its biodiversity, needs to make space for both its ever growing human population as well as its wildlife to live in harmony within the limited supply of resources. Most of the laws and policies related to efficient utilisation of these resources for the sustenance of both population is decided primarily with the help of experts from the fields of ecology, conservation and environment. For the first time, a group of ecologists, environmental and conservation scientists, took a step in reaching out to the general public for their opinions and concerns. A nation-wide survey was conducted consisting of 572 respondents mostly from the educated, urban and sub-urban population who were asked to list up to 10 most important questions that need to be addressed for better management and conservation of biodiversity in the country. The final outcome of this large scale assessment has been summarised into a list of 152 questions spread across 17 broad themes. Within the high ranking topics of concerns were ‘Policy and Governance’, ‘Biodiversity and Endangered species’ and ‘Protection and Conservation’.
In previous surveys, mostly the experts or practitioners had taken part while this survey uniquely involves a whole wider population. The authors believed that a wider representation would help in highlighting the important issues as per the public and also help them avoid biases that experts tend to develop as a result of their knowledge in their respective fields of expertise. The involvement of people from various parts of the country also helped in identifying the emergent problems in the local contexts.
There is a pressing need to understand the changes in the environment and what drives the changes in it. The survey highlights the priority issues which can be used as a guiding framework for conservation practitioners, researchers, citizens, policy makers and funders to direct their effort’s in India’s conservation landscape. Many issues identified as a result of this survey are relevant at a global scale while there are many others that are of importance at smaller scales (country, region etc). Thus the region specific assessment helps in looking at customised solutions for the local conditions. Dr. Varun Varma, first author of the paper, said “our analysis reveals themes with lower than average emphasis compared to other studies, such as – marine ecosystems, ecosystem function and services. The lack of emphasis is suggestive of lower awareness and/or press coverage of issues within these themes.”
Most of the respondents of the survey was limited to the literate section of the urban areas. Subsequent surveys could use more resources like the print media, and manpower in order to be more inclusive of the participants. Usage of vernacular languages could help reaching out to the rural population also. Nevertheless the present study was a huge leap in widening the representative class of citizens in the environmental and ecological issues in the Indian context. People are an integral part of the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems. Their active participation helps policy makers and scientists make better decisions.