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Q&A with Nigel Dudley of Equilibrium Consulting

A chat with internationally acclaimed protected areas expert Nigel Dudley in the ECF office in Tbilisi.

The Eco-Corridors Fund for the Caucasus was thrilled to have Nigel Dudley attend the 2023 Regional Consultative Forum in October. As the keynote speaker for the meeting, Nigel was able to share his knowledge, opinion and thoughts on the ECF programme, as well address some of the questions and comments from the forum participants including representatives from the governments, local administration and the leaders of community-based organisations from all three countries. He was in Georgia for a total of five days, both in Tbilisi and in the rural villages of Adigeni, and the ECF team got a chance to sit down with him in the office one sunny afternoon and learn more about his background as an internationally renowned expert in community-based nature conservation and his thoughts on applying new strategies to the ECF programme. Nigel is one of the most widely published and well-recognized experts in protected areas and together with his wife Sue Stolton and Hannah Timmins, (a colleague based in Nairobi), they are Equilibrium Research. They have been influential in many community-based nature conservation projects working closely with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) for over three decades. Equilibrium offers a consultancy service and also runs its own portfolio of projects. Their home-base is near Bristol, UK, but they can be found in the savannahs of central Africa to the boreal forests of the north. Their knowledge and experience transcend lines of latitude and their expertise is a valuable resource for any project.




ECF: Nature conservation is at the core of all the work you do. What was your earliest memory of caring for nature?

Nigel Dudley: Well, I would say preschool. I remember my mum talking about the countryside disappearing and those kinds of early experiences while walking in the mountains. I went up my first mountain at two, and was scrambling at six.


ECF: These kinds of experiences can really shape a person’s life trajectory. Where did you go to study and why?

ND: I studied zoology and botany at Aberystwyth University in Wales. At the time Aberystwyth was about the only university in the UK that offered teaching on ecology rather than traditional biology; it was also on the coast and near the mountains which tipped the balance on my choice!

ECF: Equilibrium Research. Who are you and what are you focused on right now?ND: Sue and I established Equilibrium Research in 1991. Our work currently focuses on three main areas: Broadscale Conservation, Protected and Conserved Areas and Society and Environment. For the last five years we’ve been joined by Hannah Timmins, based in Nairobi.


For the last 20 plus years we have focused particularly on protected areas and now OECMs. Lots of the work is on different assessment systems and on community benefits. It’s not the biology, it’s how we fit protecting natural ecosystem in with a crowded plant – (we work) a lot of the social side of things.

For example, I just submitted a big forest report for WWF, and we are working on a good practice guideline for rangers, working with the International Rangers Federation and the Universal Rangers Support Alliance. The latter is a 5-year effort by a number of NGOs to help support rangers and the guide focuses on practical ways to increase trust between rangers and local communities.

ECF: You and Sue are active members of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) and its Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP).  Additionally, you are both Fellows of UN Environment Programme (UNEP), World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) and Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP). Who are some of the other partners and organizations you have and are working with?

ND: I was for a long time Industry Fellow at the School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management at the University of Queensland, Australia and we work with a number of universities and research groups. Most of our work is for non-governmental organisations but we have worked with many UN agencies over the year and a fair few governments.


Large organizations always have their strengths and weaknesses and that is one of the reasons we are self-employed. We like to work on a lot of different levels, from policy work, to work in the field. A lot of people our age don’t do (field work) and I believe they risk getting out of touch. Being self-employed means we are able to stay in the field.

ECF: Have you been to the Caucasus before? When, where and why?

ND: I came here in the late 1990s on a forest conservation project to take part in a meeting and give advice as part of a GIZ project. We ran a workshop on development. We were developing a forest strategy for Georgia. Then I came 10 years ago with a friend to look around, as tourists, not for work. I’ve been to Armenia to travel as well.

ECF: You are now more familiar with the ECF programme and the goals we are trying to achieve.  Have you worked with any similar projects in your professional career, and is there anything that sets the ECF apart, or makes it unique, in your perspective?

ND: I like the fact that the ECF has such a long timetable; most conservation and development projects run for just a few years, often by the time local people are just becoming used to the staff or the ideas they pack up and go home. The focus on local communities is important; conservation only works in the long term if people in the area are generally supportive. And I like the emphasis on preserving traditional cultures alongside biodiversity.

During his short visit to Georgia, Nigel visited the region of Adegeni, specifically the villages of Mohke and Dertseli.


ECF: Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs) were one of the primary topics of the ECF’s Regional Consultative Forum that you attended in Tbilisi on October 19th, 2023. What is the meaning of OECMs and why are they important in the Caucasus?

ND: The definition OECM ultimately complements the IUCN definition of a protected area. (It is) a geographically defined area - other than a protected area - which is governed and managed in ways that achieve positive and sustained long-term outcomes for the in-situ conservation of biodiversity with associated ecosystem functions and services and where applicable, cultural, spiritual, socio-economic, and other locally relevant values.

ECF: It’s a relatively new term for the field of nature conservation and for the Caucasus region as well. So naturally, there are a lot of internal discussions about how OECMs can be applied. Are OECMS worth it? And if so, why?

ND: Yes, I think they are. I think protected areas often get a bad name because they have been set up badly. There is also a general feeling in many countries that we now have enough protected areas and that conservation needs to look at new tools. OECMs are new, they take a much softer and more people-focused approach to conservation and as I tried to say in the meeting, just the mention of OECMs has got people in many countries excited in a way that other conservation actions don’t.


ECF: At the forum, there were some very specific questions about what qualifies as an OECM. For example, do transboundary buffer zones qualify? This is very relevant for the Caucasus. Can you comment?

ND: Everything is case by case basis – but for instance buffer zones between countries are often very good for nature because often nobody goes there and they will be in place for a long time. As well, they might be good at bringing people together after conflict and there is a large trend in peace parks around the world.

When deciding what qualifies as an OECM, it is almost impossible to make a sweeping statement – everything needs to be looked at on a case-by-case basis…and although the definition of OECMs is flexible, they are not generally small areas, hedgerows, fire breaks, beaches, golf courses, areas of intensive agriculture or forests managed for timber.

ECF: For Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia (and many more countries in the world), the IUCN’s 30x30 initiative presents an ambitious challenge. How can these countries be supported and motivated to follow or work towards these international conservation goals?

ND: I don’t see any reason why these counties can’t, in the long term, work towards these (goals), especially if they have large areas that are not being used intensively. I don’t see why it is not achievable - maybe not by 2030 but that won’t happen in many countries.

ECF: Do you have any suggestions for governments of the regions on how to use ECF to reach the IUCN’s 30x30.

ND: I think you have to create a model to follow for OECM development – I really like the idea of doing a regional guideline that takes into account land ownership. And start to work with the WCPA taskforce to do that. There are volunteers out there and you can engage and get some support from. The key is to show it works, and that gets people excited. When looking at the 30x30 targets, we need to figure out what we focus on. Many people are asking, do we go for protected areas, or do we go for OECMs? Many countries have realized that they are close to the limit of protected areas that society will accept and we have found, so far, that OECMs are much more likely to be accepted.

ECF: Could you add a comment or two about your time in the field in Georgia, about the field trip to Adegeni region and the villages of Mohke and Dertseli. What did you see there that got you excited and what areas do you see as areas that the ECF can build and improve on?

ND: I liked the amount of engagement you had with the local communities; everyone turning up for a meeting with us when they must have been busy. The emphasis on keeping transhumance going was interesting; I suspect this will be challenging in the future but glad to see you making the attempt. And of, course the amount of nature you still have in Georgia is exciting for anyone coming from the UK!


ECF: Is there anything you would like to highlight or reiterate when it comes to community-based nature conservation and OECMs in the Caucasus?

ND: I think, again, just (to) get the feeling that (we are) pioneering stuff but that it’s in the moment so it’s a fantastic time to reach out. Get involved in the (international) taskforce and make connections. It’s worth it to engage or reach out and say we are doing something special here, because this is a unique and important part of the world with lessons that will be applicable elsewhere as well.


As the keynote speaker at the ECF’s Regional Consultative Form, Nigel offered a closing statement, which summarized his thoughts on the application of OECMs in the Caucasus and worldwide. “We are on the crest of the wave! There are already over 800 OECMs worldwide and that number is growing fast. OECMs have driven a new approach to nature conservation that will be very significant in the future. Which is why it’s so exciting to see three countries here today.”

The ECF team would like to thank Nigel for making time in his busy schedule to attend the forum and visit the communities and regions where the ECF is operating in Georgia and we look forward to hopefullywelcoming him back one day and until then, we will be following his work and working towards the same global conservation goals.



The following is a small sample of relevant work the Nigel has contributed to:



Biodiversity Journal, January 2023

Area-based conservation is more than just a contribution to protecting biodiversity and ecosystem services. Establishment and effective management of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation mechanisms (OECMs) could accelerate progress for a number of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), for which progress is currently too slow to meet targets by the 2030 deadline.

Energy Access and Development program, January 2021

Climate change and biodiversity loss trigger policies targeting and impacting local communities worldwide. However, research and policy implementation often fail to sufficiently consider community responses and involve them. We present the results of a collective self-assessment exercise for eight case studies of communications regarding climate change or biodiversity loss between project teams and local communities. We develop eight indicators of good stakeholder communication, reflecting the scope of Verran (2002)'s concept of postcolonial moments as a communicative utopia.


Wiley and Society for Conservation Biology, July 2023

This paper outlines the need for global leaders across multiple sectors to recognize the profession of rangers as essential planetary health workers and to position rangers more effectively within global conservation and environmental policy mechanisms.


written by Nigel Dudley, March 2020

This book provides the first contemporary assessment of area-based conservation and its implications for nature and society. Now covering 15 per cent of the land surface and a growing area of ocean, the creation of protected areas is one of the fastest conscious changes in land management in history. But this has come at a cost, including a backlash from human rights organisations about the social impacts of protected areas. At the same time, a range of new types of area-based conservation has emerged, based on indigenous people's territories, local community lands and a new designation of "other effective area-based conservation measures". This book provides a concise overview of the status and possible futures of area-based conservation.


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