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Using scenarios to anticipate challenges

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Protecting biodiversity for the future under changing environmental and socio-political conditions is a major challenge. ‘Scenario planning’ is increasingly used in business as a decision-making aid but is underutilised by conservationists – the very people that should be looking forward -– for environmental management, especially at local scales.


For all sectors, people’s values and attitudes are crucial in determining the future, yet they rarely inform scenario exercises. Recently, some novel methods have been developed to fully integrate people’s worldviews into scenario planning - the ‘ethnographic futures framework’ focuses on how changes occur through human agency and how they will be felt by society in the future.


Natural England carried out a scenario planning process using these novel approaches. The scenarios considered a wide range of global and local factors and investigate their impact upon the natural environment in England to 2060.


A set of four contrasting scenarios was produced:

    •  Connect for Life

          – where society understands and values the services that a healthy natural environment provides

    •  Go for Growth

          – ‘business as usual’ where the environment is secondary to economic growth

    •  Keep it Local 

          – national governance starts to break down as communities act to protect their local resources

    •  Succeed through Science 

          – society puts all its faith in finding technological solutions to the challenges of rising populations


Despite their differences, nature was always highly valued by future societies in some form; ultimately and critically, the overall state of the natural environment was determined not by natural forces but by societal choice.  In other words, the future is ours to shape.


The paper is published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Applied Ecology – for a pdf version of the full paper click the button below

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