SOAS University of London

Centre for Development, Environment and Policy (CeDEP)

Biodiversity, Conservation and Development (30 credits)

30 credits

This module is about biodiversity as the material and conceptual phenomenon which links conservation and development.  A critical aim is to understand what biodiversity is, what has been happening to it and how we let it come to such a lamentable state, particularly in the last two centuries. The idea and material manifestation of ‘human progress’ or more recently ‘development’ is fundamentally implicated in the production of what we now refer to as the Anthropocene. A fundamental part of this course, therefore, Is to lay out our current understanding of global threats to biodiversity and to demonstrate how heavily  implicated development processes are in the  magnitude of these threats. In order for it to be possible to identify ways of tackling these problems, we need to understand that they are the product of the relationship between biodiversity and social, political and economic organisation. It may be possible to understand biodiversity without understanding society, at least to some extent, but it is not possible to understand biodiversity management without exploring the links between conservation and development.

This module will provide students with an overview of the ways in which biodiversity, conservation and development are all historical constructs, driven by colonialism and the expansion and intensification of global trade over recent centuries. This lays the grounds for students to be able to see that biodiversity management is perhaps best understood as a product of the fact that we live in social- ecological systems – in which society and nature are co-produced. The ways in which social and ecological systems are managed and governed are frequently the result of a trade-off between conservation and development objectives, a trade-off which frequently leaves biodiversity in a bad place without doing a great deal for things like poverty reduction.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • Understand critically the relationship between biodiversity, conservation and development
  • Understand the implications for approaches to biodiversity conservation of the relationship between conservation and development, in its historical, social, political and economic dimensions
  • Gain a sound knowledge of initiatives and tools which attempt to realise conservation and development objectives simultaneously
  • Identify the strengths, weaknesses and trade-offs inherent in different approaches to achieving conservation and development simultaneously,
  • Use the understanding gained of the relationship between biodiversity, conservation and development to inform more effective and legitimate choices about dealing with real-world situations in which conservation and development objectives have to be reconciled.


Students are advised to dedicate 15 - 20 hours study time per week for this module.

Scope and syllabus

Part I: Histories, concepts and trends in biodiversity, conservation and development

  1. Historical origins of conservation and development
  2. The era of sustainable development
  3. Biodiversity and biodiversity loss
  4. Society and nature in the Anthropocene
  5. Conceptual resources for conservation and development in the Anthropocene
  6. Population and environment
  7. Population, consumption and conflict
  8. Globalisation and global environmental governance
  9. Varieties of environmental governance

Part II: Biodiversity, conservation and development in practice

  1. Overview of approaches to conservation and development
  2. Protected areas
  3. Landscape approaches to conservation and development
  4. Community conservation
  5. Payments for ecosystem services

Part III: What next for biodiversity, conservation and development?

  1. Conservation and development futures

Method of assessment

This module is assessed by:

  • a 500-word commentary and critical discussion on a key reading, and assessment of the commentaries of two other students (10%)
  • a 3000-word examined assignment (EA), with an element of online interaction and discussion, worth 40%
  • a two-hour written examination worth 50%.

Since the EA is an element of the formal examination process, please note the following:

  • The EA questions and submission date will be available on the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).
  • The EA is submitted by uploading it to the VLE.
  • The EA is marked by the module tutor and students will receive a percentage mark and feedback.
  • Answers submitted must be entirely the student’s own work and not a product of collaboration.
  • Plagiarism is a breach of regulations. To ensure compliance with the specific University of London regulations, all students are advised to read the guidelines on referencing the work of other people. For more detailed information, see the FAQ on the VLE.

Suggested reading

Adams, W.M. (2004) Against Extinction: The Story of Conservation, Earthscan: London.

Adams, W.M. (2009) Green Development : Environment and Sustainability in a Developing World, 3rd ed. ed, Routledge: London.

Beinart, W., Hughes, Lotte, Hughes, L. (2008) Environment and Empire, Oxford Univ. Press: Oxford

Berkes, F. (2008) Sacred Ecology, Routledge: New York.

Berkes, F., Colding, J., Folke, C., ebrary, I. (2003) Navigating Social-Ecological Systems: Building Resilience for Complexity and Change [online], Cambridge University Press: Cambridge; New York, available:

Bhagwat, S., Newsham, A.J. (2016) Conservation and Development, Routledge Perspectives on Development, Routledge: Abingdon, Oxon.

Brockington, D., Duffy, R., Igoe, J. (2008) Nature Unbound : Conservation, Capitalism and the Future of Protected Areas, Earthscan: London.

Grove, R. (1995) Green Imperialism : Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens, and the Orgins of Environmentalism, 1600-1860, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge ; New York.

Hulme, D., Murphree, M. (2001a) African Wildlife and Livelihoods, James Currey: Oxford.

Roe, D., Elliott, J., Sandbrook, C. and Walpole, M., eds., Biodiversity Conservation and Poverty Alleviation: Exploring the Evidence for a Link, Wiley-Blackwell: Chichester, 239–52.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules