Skip to main content

Biodiversity and Security: understanding environmental crime, illegal wildlife trade and threat finance.

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - BIOSEC (Biodiversity and Security: understanding environmental crime, illegal wildlife trade and threat finance.)

Reporting period: 2018-03-01 to 2019-08-31

The BIOSEC project examines how and why biodiversity conservation and global security are becoming more integrated. Levels of poaching and trafficking of some of the world’s most iconic species have increased. NGOs, national governments and international organisations have claimed that wildlife trafficking generates ‘threat finance’ – that is that it funds organized crime and terrorism. But the evidence for this is sparse – and we need to develop a much better understanding of the relationships between them.


The BIOSEC team aims to define a new field of research in the illegal wildlife trade.
Our main research question is:

Are concerns about protecting biodiversity and global security becoming integrated? And if so, in what ways?

We aim to answer this by focusing in five sub-questions:
1. What is an environmental crime? In what ways are biodiversity losses as a result of illegal wildlife trade being defined as global security threats?
2. How does an environmental crime approach to illegal wildlife trade change our understanding of security?
3. What is the nature of the EU policy response to illegal wildlife trafficking?
4. How are new technologies from the security sector being used to tackle wildlife trafficking?
5. How does an environmental crime approach to wildlife trafficking shape responses in source and end user countries?

The BIOSEC team has three main objectives:

Objective 1: To develop pioneering theoretical approaches to understanding the links between biodiversity and security
The main intellectual objective of the project is to develop a fresh and innovative theoretical framework for political ecology; this is to help us understand the challenges posed by global environmental change, by specifically exploring the potential links between biodiversity protection, illegal wildlife trade and environmental crime.

Objective 2: To generate new kinds of empirical data on the illegal wildlife trade to demonstrate the ways that biodiversity protection and security are increasingly linked
The team will analyse existing datasets on the illegal wildlife trade and will also undertake ethnographic fieldwork to generate new forms of information about the trade. We plan to bring together information from source, transit and end user countries, gain a better sense of the challenges faced by organisations dealing directly with the illegal wildlife trade, and crucially we want to understand how communities on the ground experience the integration of biodiversity conservation and security.

Objective 3: To provide policy relevant information on the links between biodiversity protection and global security to government agencies, international organisations and NGOs
As we develop new security-oriented approaches to the illegal wildlife trade, policy-makers urgently need more information in order to design more effective and socially just responses. The BIOSEC project team aims to develop new approaches to assist and support user groups in practical actions.
The BIOSEC project is developing innovative intellectual approaches to enhance our understandings of how and why biodiversity conservation is becoming integrated with global security. In theoretical terms the project combines conceptual approaches from environmental security, securitisation theory, political ecology, green criminology and international interventionism to develop fresh ways of thinking. These new approaches include the political ecology of security, conservation geopolitics and post human geographies. We are also analysing the evolution of law enforcement approaches to wildlife trafficking, developing a focus on trades in ‘overlooked’ and non-charismatic species including sturgeon, cacti and songbirds, and we are tracking the whole chain of supply and demand. Our work is very much focused on understanding how the conservation community (state agencies, conservation NGOs, donors and international institutions) are responding to wildlife trafficking, and in what ways they work with the security sector. This is one of the distinctive contributions of the project to understanding the dynamics of wildlife trafficking, its role in threat finance and responses to it. The researchers are developing new ways of thinking about militarisation of conservation as a response to poaching; in particular the team are focusing on the social, political and economic effects of militarisation on marginalised communities, and on conservation officials themselves (including rangers). The BIOSEC project, is therefore, developing new ways of understanding and analysing the illegal wildlife trade as a means of exploring the intersections between security and biodiversity - this work has already been taken up by a range of conservation NGOs and government agencies in order to help them consider the range of issues involved in responding to trafficking, and ultimately to design better approaches to reduce it. These innovative intellectual approaches are complemented by mixing qualitative and quantitative data, engaging with post-human research methods, developing an ethnography of the uses of new technologies in conservation, and using ‘follow the money’ and ‘follow the policy’ methods.
The BIOSEC team have developed specific expertise on illicit trades in cacti and succulents, caviar, rhino horn, ivory and songbirds. We are researching responses to illegal trades in Africa and Asia, and how they intersect with security dynamics, However, we have also developed a distinctive profile in working conservation, illegal wildlife trade and security intersections in Europe (as both a transit point and as a producer and consumer of illegal wildlife products). Our analysis of the role of Europe in the illegal wildlife trade is especially important because this is often overlooked in favour of a focus on Africa and Asia. The European trade angle allows us to explore fundamental questions of how global patterns of inequality and of wealth drive the illegal wildlife trade. Our work is also leading the way in terms of focusing on overlooked and non-charismatic species; sturgeon, songbirds and cacti are all traded in ways that threaten their sustainability, and our research casts light on how these trades operate, the global inequalities which drive collection and consumption, as well as how security is central to approaches to reducing the trades. We are also examining the socio-political effects of a more security-oriented approach to reducing illegal wildlife trade; this is via an analysis of the social dynamics of uptake and implementation of new monitoring technologies for tracking the movement of rangers and law enforcement officials, and by researching the shifts in approaches to law enforcement, including thinking about illegal wildlife trade as a crime versus a security issue.

As we enter years 3 and 4, our plan is to complete the data collection phase in The Balkans region, Southern Africa, Mexico, UK, USA, the EU and Indonesia. We are planning further data collection and fieldwork in Thailand and South Korea.
We are planning further knowledge exchange events with key stakeholders, panels at academic conferences, and high profile publications as well as other forms of communication to reach wider audiences, such as artworks, comic strips and short videos.