Science and Practice #7: Questioning Conservation with Sarah Milne

In this episode, Michael speaks with Sarah Milne, a senior lecturer at the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University about her recent book, “Corporate Nature: An Insider’s Ethnography of Global Conservation”.

In the book, Sarah recounts her experience with a conservation policy implemented in the Cardamom mountains of Cambodia by a major international environmental NGO, Conservation International. This policy is called a Conservation Agreement, and it is a type of payment for ecosystem services, or PES, policy. These involve an external actor paying a local resource user as an individual or a group to incentivize them to provide important public goods, in this case forest conservation. Sarah describes how the new conservation agreement model developed within Conservation International and how it grew into a corporate product to be applied in a range of contexts. Sarah worked on the ground in Cambodia as this policy was implemented, and describes the challenges it met when the simplifying theory and requirements of the model confronted political and ecological complexity in the field. An important point that Sarah makes is that we need to worry less about the promotion of a particular model and more about developing an “ethics of practice”.


Milne, S. 2022. Corporate Nature: An Insider’s Ethnography of Global Conservation. University of Arizona Press.