Guest Blog by Gavin Saunders: ECOS Review – Challenging Nature Conservation

Long long ago (well from about 2000-2004) I was on BANC Council, and I still write pieces for their journal, ECOS, from time to time (this was the most recent). So it gives me pleasure to have BANC Chair and Neroche Woodlander Gavin Saunders, to write a guest blog.


Thank you Miles for giving me this guest slot….


This is a piece about ECOS, the little journal which, consciously and unconsciously, acknowledged and unacknowledged, has been flowing around the soup of the nature conservation sector as a catalyst for a rather long time. I think it’s great – and I’m very biased. And I also think, in my biased way, that anyone who enjoys the refreshing straightforwardness of Miles’s blog would also think ECOS is great. So this is, I admit, a selling job – but hopefully an interesting one!


When I started on the masters degree course in Conservation at UCL back in 1989 (where I first met the youthful Mr King, incidentally (I still had hair then – Ed)), we were introduced to a little journal called ECOS. In its diminutive A5 pages lurked a wonderful spectrum of articles about all aspects of nature and the battles to recognise, protect and connect with it, many of which were refreshingly left-field, irreverent and challenging, and which together seemed to leapfrog across boundaries between science and social policy, head and heart. All this was peppered with the whimsical but cutting cartoons of Neil Bennett. I subscribed to ECOS then, and have been a subscriber ever since.


Since that time, and especially in more recent years, ECOS has not been the only source of independent commentary on conservation issues – Miles’ own blog here, is an excellent example, and its popularity is a sign of how much we need this sort of free-thinking, unapologetic, unconstrained writing. Mark Avery’s blog is another, and there are more. But there are few places to turn for sources of truly independent thought in conservation. So much of what we hear from the conservation ‘side’ comes through the filters of big NGOs and the messages they choose to send out.


There’s an irony here: we all strive, as conservationists, to bring nature and its interests into the mainstream. Yet conservation isn’t a comfortable mainstream subject. It’s often at its best when it’s radical, questioning, even anti-establishment. That sort of position is often most easily represented by the individual, maverick ‘outsider’, but it can have a ‘home’ in a collective publication too.


ECOS was and is produced by BANC, the British Association of Nature Conservationists, which is a rather stuffy title for what has always been a very minimalist and non-establishment little charity. It was conceived and established by students on the UCL Conservation course, a few years before I did the course myself. Its founders and early supporters included people who became well known in the sector – Chris Rose, Sue Everett, Adrian Colston, Paul Evans, Heather Corrie, Bill Adams, Peter Shirley, Rob Jarman – and it received high profile support from the likes of Derek Ratcliffe and Marion Shoard. Rick Minter became editor early on and has remained in the role.


The founders saw the need for an independent source of challenge to mainstream conservation, which (even then) they saw as risking becoming smug and stuck in its own received wisdom. In the two decades which followed, ECOS quickly flowered into an influential source of critical commentary, inspiration and thoughtful rumination on all aspects of the conservation scene, read by everyone from students to chief execs who wanted a handle on what people were thinking amongst the rank and file. Amongst many topics where ECOS was a catalyst for the development of new thinking was rewilding (the discussion of which really took root through articles in ECOS), the ‘extinction of experience’ (the lack of nature contact amongst the young), alien species and our attitudes to them, and the various tribulations of the conservation agencies of England, Scotland and Wales. The BANC website now provides an archive of much of this back catalogue of material, and it makes fascinating reading.


Nearly thirty years later, I find myself chair of BANC. I joined its Council of trustees (who run the organisation as volunteers, with just a paid editor and development officer) a few years ago when it was clear that BANC was struggling, losing profile, and losing members. On the one hand, the printed journal was still popular amongst its core readership, though circulated and re-circulated copies meant readership didn’t translate into subscription income to support production and editorial costs. On the other hand, a potential new generation of readers were not very interested in a printed journal, which seemed quaintly old fashioned in an age of fast online news and opinion, so they were passing it by.


Something had to be done, and we took the decision to move ECOS online. As a result, the same quality and depth of writing which ECOS has always contained, is now available by annual subscription through We’re really excited by what it offers – but we need to bring it (back) to the attention of today’s crop of conservation professionals and practitioners.


And God knows we all need it more than ever! We need intellectual strength of purpose combined with heart-felt and spiritual confidence in the spark which excites us about nature. There’s a lot of dark, pretty malignant feeling ‘out there’ towards conservation, and it’s becoming politically acceptable in the devil-take-the-hindmost post-austerity world created by recent governments. Working in conservation is about more than having the qualifications and the licences and the CV. It demands the courage to stand up to the sneering, and the wisdom to see how nature infuses all aspects of human society. ECOS has always been a place to find little nuggets of that wisdom, but to continue to gather them, it needs people to subscribe.


To help bring ECOS content to that wider audience, we’re offering free downloadable access to a recent issue of ECOS, to encourage people to see what the online journal has to offer. So rather than take my word for it, please take a look here


An annual subscription to BANC is exceedingly good value at just £25 a year! To join, just follow this link



About Miles King

UK conservation professional, writing about nature, politics, life. All views are my own and not my employers. I don't write on behalf of anybody else.
This entry was posted in BANC, ECOS, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Guest Blog by Gavin Saunders: ECOS Review – Challenging Nature Conservation

  1. rob yorke says:

    I look forward to delivering my piece on ‘rewilding – it’s teething troubles’ for Ecos after conversations at Hay Festival


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