For more than a century, environmental organizations have been active for the conservation of nature and natural resources. With the Convention on Biological Diversity, signed in Rio de Janeiro 1992, these efforts have got a new and global impulse. Nature conservation-oriented NGOs, such as WWF, have successfully operated on national and international scales and have effectively promoted the designation of protected areas in every region of the world. At a closer look, however, it becomes apparent that the protection of nature is tied up with deep conflicts. In rural areas of developing countries, the establishment of nature reserves often deprives local communities of natural resources that are vital to their livelihood. Under conditions of poverty and land degradation, long-term protection of nature is far from guaranteed. More and more, nature conservation organizations and government agencies are searching for ways to combine conservation and community development. In highly industrialized countries, nature conservation is under pressure too. Here, urbanization, infrastructure, pollution and recreation intensity pose a serious threat to the remaining patches of nature. In conflicts between economic development and nature conservation, the latter is often overruled. Nature protection organizations search for ways of strengthening public support for nature and engaging companies and farmers in protection activities.
Social science research on natural resource management and biodiversity aims at understanding and improving these social and political relationships between nature conservation, rural development, and urbanization and industrialization. Prominent topics are, among others: political and socio-economic participation of local communities in conservation; trends and patterns in public support for nature and biodiversity; interaction of ecological science and politics in the formation of nature policies; innovate forms of biodiversity policy and management, and involvement of companies and consumers in nature protection.