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

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - BIOSEC (Biodiversity and Security: understanding environmental crime, illegal wildlife trade and threat finance.)

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2020-08-31

The BIOSEC Project focuses on how and why biodiversity conservation and global security became more integrated, especially in strategies to tackle the illegal wildlife trade (IWT). The rising rates of poaching from 2008, particularly of the world’s most iconic species prompted calls for urgent action to save species. NGOs, national governments and international organisations often claim that IWT is a source of ‘threat finance’ – that it funds terrorism - while also converging with and supporting organised crime, both of which undermine governments and the rule of law. This meant policy makers framed it as wildlife crime, encouraging responses anchored in security thinking, especially enhanced forms of law enforcement and militarisation. The BIOSEC Project focuses on understanding the wider implications of this shift.

The BIOSEC Project had three key objectives:

1. To develop pioneering theoretical approaches to understanding the links between biodiversity and security
2. To generate new and original empirical data on the illegal wildlife trade to demonstrate the ways that biodiversity protection and security are increasingly linked
3. To provide policy relevant information on the links between biodiversity protection and global security to government agencies, international organisations and NGOs

The BIOSEC Project is timely because the idea that the illegal wildlife trade constitutes a major security threat has become more prevalent in academic and policy circles, yet it is an area that is under researched and poorly understood. These shifts demand urgent conceptual and empirical interrogation. The BIOSEC Project goes beyond the ‘state-of-the art’ because biodiversity protection and global security inhabit distinctive intellectual ‘silos’; however, they need to be analysed via an interdisciplinary research agenda that cuts across human geography, politics and international relations, criminology and conservation biology.
The core theoretical developments are grounded in thorough and sustained empirical research by the whole team. We undertook 493 interviews with representatives from conservation NGOs, governments, international organisations, media organisations, protected area managers and the private sector. We explored the role of global actors in shaping approaches to tackling illegal wildlife trade, notably donors, international organisations, conservation NGOs, philanthropists and governments. The research analysed patterns of donor funding for illegal wildlife trade programmes, showing that there has been a shift towards law enforcement approaches. Our research examined the ways governments and NGOs articulated and presented wildlife crime as a key threat to species and to global stability. This work focused on understanding the wider implications of the shift towards militarisation and policies based on heavier law enforcement, including the pressures on rangers, human rights abuses and partnering between conservationists and private security professionals. We also examined the wider social implications of reliance on new technologies in creating cultures of security and surveillance in conservation. Much of the debate about illegal wildlife trade revolves around charismatic species, such as elephants, rhinos and tigers, but our research highlighted the importance of studying overlooked or non charismatic species including cacti, songbirds, timber and caviar. We developed specific in depth case studies from Indonesia, Romania, Mozambique, South Africa, USA, the EU, Mexico, Serbia, Western Balkans and Vietnam, which revealed important commonalities and differences in the dynamics of trade and responses to poaching and trafficking.

Our research developed six cross cutting themes: militarisation of conservation, defining wildlife crime, technologies, European wildlife trades, commodification and consumption, and laws and loopholes. Engaging with these themes also allowed us to provide policy relevant information to support user groups in designing more socially just and effective responses.

We engaged in knowledge exchange and dissemination activities throughout the life of the BIOSEC Project. These included academic articles in leading journals (with books and special issues to come); and we also organised 19 knowledge exchange workshops, participated in 18 further workshops, wrote 8 policy briefs, produced 6 themed videos and recorded 5 dedicated podcasts. We maintained an active online presence via a bespoke website and Twitter feed to communicate our findings and gain feedback from key stakeholders.
There are 5 areas where the BIOSEC Project went beyond the state of the art

1. Political Ecologies of Security and Wildlife Crime
The team built on the existing debates to develop the central theoretical approach of a political ecology of security. The team reviewed the theoretical literatures from securitisation theory, political ecology, militarisation, green criminology, surveillance studies, critical geopolitics, conservation law enforcement and environmental peacebuilding to rethink the meanings of security and wildlife crime. Bringing these bodies of thought together allowed us to analyse specific manifestations, challenges and failures of security approaches to illegal wildlife trade and wildlife crime.

2. Geopolitical Ecology
Existing ‘Geopolitical Ecology’ scholarship takes a narrow view of ‘Geopolitics’ which emphasises military and state-based politics, but this project integrated it with ‘more-than-human’ thinking to redefine sturgeon as geopolitical subjects, with the capacity to shape, alter and disrupt geopolitical realities. The team also developed the idea by compiling a database on the geopolitics of conservation funding for tackling the illegal wildlife trade, explored environmental activism in Vietnam and examined the process of unequal exchange in wilderness protection in the EU.

3. Linking the Whole Chain of Demand and Supply
The research team disaggregated the singular and blunt categorisations of demand and supply. This is particularly important in four areas: cacti and succulent trade, demand reduction programmes, the caviar trade and the songbird trade. Sites of production and consumption can be coterminous – this presents policy makers with a challenge if they design interventions to tackle the illegal wildlife trade which unhelpfully target supply/source countries only or if demand reduction strategies focus on places & communities where wildlife consumption is high. We also developed an important strand of work drawing on critical race studies to explore the ways that NGO demand reduction campaigns intersect with colonialism and racism.

4. A focus on non charismatic species/ under-researched areas
Academic research and policy debates have tended to focus on well known and charismatic species (elephants, rhinos, tigers), but one of the areas of distinctiveness in the BIOSEC Project was to cast light on ‘unloved’ or semi-charismatic species including sturgeon, songbirds, and cacti.

5. Methodological developments
The team developed several novel approaches by adapting post-human research methods, using a ‘follow-the-gaps’, follow the policy, and follow the money approaches as well as generating ethnographies of various technologies used in conservation.