Despite ongoing efforts to motivate politicians and publics in Europe regarding nature conservation, biodiversity continues to decline. Monetary valuation of ecosystem services appears to be insufficient to motivate people, suggesting that non-monetary values have a crucial role to play. There is insufficient information about the motivations of actors who have been instrumental in successful conservation projects. We investigated the motivations underlying these biodiversity actors using the ranking of cards and compared the results with the rankings of motivations of a second group of actors with more socially related interests. For both groups of actors, their action relating to biodiversity was supported in general by two groups of motivations related to living a meaningful life and moral values. The non-biodiversity actors also noted that their action relating to biodiversity rested more on beauty, place attachment and intrinsic values in comparison with their main non-biodiversity interests. Our results have implications for environmental policy and biodiversity conservation in that the current tendency of focusing on the economic valuation of biodiversity fails to address the motivations of successful actors, thereby failing to motivate nature conservation on an individual level.