The Philosophical Difference between Conservation and Preservation

I have been a little quiet on The Travelling Cheetah front (tell me something new, you say) because I have been frantically completing an Environmental Management qualification before I head to Europe today.  Throughout the course I was confronted with some interesting topics, and one of those was the philosophical differences between conservation and preservation.  Boring.  A little, but as an environmentalist it is important to understand where on the spectrum we are when it comes to these philosophical ideas.  But what is the fundamental difference between conservation and preservation?

What is Conservation?

  • ‘The protection of plants and animals, natural areas, and interesting and important structures and buildings, especially from the damaging effects of human activity’ (Cambridge Dictionary 2017)
  • ‘Carefully using valuable natural substances that exist in limited amounts in order to make certain that they will be available for as long a time as possible’ (Cambridge Dictionary 2017)
  •  ‘An occurrence of improvement by virtue of preventing loss or injury or other change’ (Word Reference 2005)
  • ‘Management of the human use of the biosphere to yield the greatest sustainable benefits to present generations while maintaining the potential to meet the needs and aspirations of future generations’ (World Conservation Strategy IUCN 1980)

Essentially, conservation is to maintain the quality of historical structures, environmental resources and provide balance among species. Conservation encourages upkeep and maintenance – it is the idea of development, waste prevention and public benefit. For example, repairing broken heritage sites, controlling the use of natural resources for future generational use, or recovering endangered species through breeding programmes or controlled sanctuaries.

What is Preservation?

  •  ‘The act of keeping something the same or of preventing it from being damaged’ (Cambridge Dictionary 2017)
  •  ‘Maintain (something) in its original or existing state’ (Oxford University Press 2017)
  • ‘Keep safe from harm or injury’ (Oxford University Press 2017)

Preservation is the act of keeping things as they were or are. In some ways, preservation is the act of protecting a resource, environment or species for its intrinsic value to exist. The essence of preservation is to protect without considering human requirements.  Preservation is as important as conservation regarding environmental management. Intrinsic value is a critical feature of discussions surrounding environmental preservation. The idea of preservation excludes public access and manages the area more strictly, disallowing human interference. Preservation is protection of natural materials for intrinsic value and disallows interference, whereas conservation encourages human assistance in protection of the environment, and interference for the greater good, allowing sustainable use of natural resources.


New Zealand Fur Seal, Kaikoura

Are you a conservationist, a preservationist, or a little bit of both?  Tell me in the comments.

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