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Professor Jos Barlow has been awarded the 2023 Busk Medal for his outstanding contribution to understanding and conserving Amazonian tropical rainforests. We spoke to Jos about where his interest in rainforests began, the future of conservation, and his advice for a career in the field. 


What are you most proud of in your career to date?

Without doubt, I am most proud of the students I have helped and their many achievements.


Where did your interest in rainforests come from?

I’ve always been interested in nature, and as a child spent a lot of time exploring the woods in and around the South Downs. But I did not realise then that I could make a career out of studying forests; it took a failed attempt at studying economics to focus my mind on what I really wanted to do!

Tropical forests are a dream for anyone interested in nature. I was very lucky to have an opportunity to spend time researching the Amazon when I finished my degree and have been hooked ever since.


Why is the field of conservation so important and how do you think it will evolve in the future?

Conservation is fundamental to understanding, mitigating and reversing biodiversity loss. Biodiversity rarely gets as much attention as the other major global crisis – climate change – but is inextricably linked: biodiversity loss can exacerbate climate change, biodiversity is affected by climate change, and biodiversity recovery can be part of the solution if conducted alongside long-term reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. 

Conservation science is evolving fast and moving beyond a narrow focus of protected areas and site-level actions. The world is highly connected, and many drivers of biodiversity loss – such as climate change or demand for foods and timber – have distant origins. To be effective in the long term, conservation needs to help bring about the societal changes required to mitigate the negative outcomes from distant drivers.  


What advice would you give to someone wanting to go into a career in the field?

I think the most important thing is a passion for nature. Conservation used to be mostly about the biology, but it encompasses so many different skills now, from social science through to remote sensing. This is great, as everyone can play an important role. Whatever your speciality, I think it is useful to be open to new ideas and have a broad vision about what is useful. I’ve learned so much from working with people with different views and disciplinary backgrounds.