The recent history of biodiversity conservation practice has been characterised by the increasing use of market-based instruments. In seeking to understand this development, an emerging body of critical social science research tends to characterise conservationists as being ideologically in favour of markets in conservation. An alternative possibility is that conservationists pursue market solutions as a pragmatic response to prevailing political and economic circumstances. In this paper we seek to establish empirically what a sample of conservation professionals actually think about markets in conservation. We used Q-methodology, a tool for analysing structure and form within respondents’ subjective positions. The results show that our respondents are circumspect about the growing use of markets in conservation. We identify two dominant discourses that we label ‘outcome focused enthusiasm and ‘ideological scepticism’. Neither of these perspectives indicates strong, or uncritical, support for market approaches, and the views of our respondents appear to recognise the limitations of markets both in theory and practice. While there is some difference in views between the two dominant discourses that we document in this paper, there is considerable convergence towards a position that we label ‘cautious pragmatism’. We conclude that those studying conservation need to be cautious about over-generalising the perspectives and values held by conservation professionals, as there appears to be far less consensus about the adoption of market-led approaches in this sector than has been suggested. Further research could investigate the drivers of pro-market behaviour at the organisational level given the evident personal scepticism of our respondents.