Many commentators attest to a paradigm shift in biodiversity conservation, away from exclusive protected areas towards more people-centred or community-based conservation. This has been referred to as ‘new conservation’. However, new conservation could be thought of as an attempt to re-label and re-package conservation and to ‘get people on board’ existing strategies. According to its critics even so-called new conservation policy, practice and institutions remain expert-driven, undemocratic and autocratic. I argue that for new conservation to become reality, then more fundamental changes in priority-setting, decision-making and organization are required. This paper presents three challenges for a real people-centred conservation: a more pluralist approach to understanding knowledge and values of different actors, greater deliberation and inclusion in decision-making, and a remodelling of institutions to support conservation.