The Conservation Evidence project, based at the University of Cambridge in the UK, has a simple yet ambitious aim; to list all the conservation interventions ever dreamed up around the world, and collect the evidence on how well they actually worked. The project is ongoing, with new chapters of evidence added every year grouped by taxa, habitat or topic — all available free on Of particular relevance to AEWA is the evidence on birds, which was collected in 2010, and the ‘synopsis’ on bird conservation boasts a collection of 1,328 studies testing 322 different actions that you might take to conserve birds. An update is expected soon and looks likely to add at least 500 new papers and 17 new interventions.

For each intervention (such as ‘use decoys to attract birds to safe areas’ or ‘translocate auks’), each scientific paper is summarized in a single, jargon-free paragraph, and the key messages are extracted from all papers to provide a quick overview of the topic. A map shows the location of the studies on that intervention globally, and experts review the evidence and score every intervention for its effectiveness, the certainty of the evidence, and any harmful side effects, placing each intervention into an effectiveness category from ‘beneficial’ to ‘likely to be ineffective or harmful.’ You can find more information on data collection and the expert scoring process on the website.

Below you can see an example page from the Conservation Evidence website, which can be accessed by clicking below.

Part of the evidence page for restoring or creating inland wetlands for birds - showing the key messages, expert assessment, source countries and first study used in the supporting evidence. Click to go to the full page.


Bringing Data Together

The power of bringing all the data together in this way is that you can easily search the database to gain a rapid, in-depth understanding of a topic. You can interrogate the data in multiple ways. For example, you could search for ‘Roseate Tern’ to see what actions have been tested for that species; you could search ‘tern’ to see what has been learned about conserving terns more widely, that you may want to apply to Roseate Terns; or you could search ‘attract birds to safe areas’ if your main aim is to see the effectiveness of different methods which might be used to encourage terns to breed in certain locations. A short video, explaining how to use the website most effectively, is available on the website.

Achieving Maximum Impact

An examination of these data reminds us that that good intentions are not enough in conservation. Some conservation ideas work much better than others. We have limited time, money and energy with which to save biodiversity; we need to throw them at the solutions that are most likely to have the greatest possible impact. Almost half the interventions examined in the bird synopsis published in 2013  ended up being categorized as ‘unknown effectiveness’, with a further 13 per cent having no evidence whatsoever. Less than half of one per cent of interventions were definitively categorized as beneficial; however, nearly a quarter of all interventions were ‘likely to be beneficial’. Half a per cent of interventions turned out to be ‘unlikely to be beneficial’ or ‘likely to be ineffective or harmful’. While the upcoming update may well clarify the status of many of the interventions that are currently listed as ‘unknown effectiveness’, we clearly still have a way to go in terms of knowing exactly what the most effective solutions are for bird conservation.

More Even Global Coverage

There are also strong biases towards interventions being tested more in some countries than others. For example, almost 450 interventions to conserve birds were tested in the USA, whereas for most countries, none were tested at all. Within the Contracting Parties to AEWA, by far the greatest number of interventions were tested in the UK – 247 – compared with the country with the next greatest, Spain, with 34. Most Contracting Party countries – 48 – had not had an intervention tested within them. While this may in part be because for the 2013 synopsis only English language journals had been searched, it is also likely to broadly reflect the trends in data (around 2/3 of biodiversity conservation data are published in English). Hopefully, this map will motivate conservationists to get out and correct some of those biases by testing interventions in AEWA countries other than the UK! Also, Conservation Evidence has now searched over 330 non-English-language journals in 16 languages and so additional studies will be added to the synopsis update.

An additional filtering feature that will soon be available on the site will make it easier for users to find studies of particular relevance to AEWA.

This interactive map shows the number of interventions for birds from each country, as of the 2013 Bird Synopsis. Zoom in to see each region in more detail; and use the filter on the right to show all countries, AEWA contracting parties, non-party range states, and all other countries.

Practitioner Focussed Journal

Conservation Evidence does not just gather data from other scientific journals; it runs a practitioner focused journal, Conservation Evidence Journal, publishing the results of testing interventions. It is free to publish in the journal, and all papers are open access so that other conservationists can read them. Papers can be as short as a page and the emphasis is on testing interventions, not on scientific novelty, helping conservation practitioners who might not publish in traditional scientific journals to share their work with others. The hope is that conservation professionals can use the Conservation Evidence database to find the most effective strategies to conserve their species, and then inform other conservationists in turn by testing interventions and publishing the results. This positive feedback cycle of using and generating evidence might just be one of the most effective ways to save our beautiful migratory birds, before it is too late.