Community-based approaches are pursued in recognition of the need for place-based responses to environmental change that integrate local understandings of risk and vulnerability. Yet the potential for fair adaptation is intimately linked to how variations in perceptions of environmental change and risk are treated. There is, however, little empirical evidence of the extent and nature of variations in risk perception in and between multiple community settings. Here, we rely on data from 231 semi-structured interviews conducted in nine communities in Western Province, Solomon Islands, to statistically model differential perceptions of risk and change within and between communities. Overall, people were found to be less likely to perceive environmental changes in the marine environment than they were for terrestrial systems. The distance to the nearest market town (which may be a proxy for exposure to commercial logging and degree of involvement with the market economy) and gender had the greatest overall statistical effects on perceptions of risk. Yet, we also find that significant environmental change is under reported in communities, while variations in perception are not always easily related to commonly assumed fault lines of vulnerability. The findings suggest that there is an urgent need for methods that engage with the drivers of perceptions as part of community-based approaches. In particular, it is important to explicitly account for place, complexity and diversity of environmental risk perceptions, and we reinforce calls to engage seriously with underlying questions of power, culture, identity and practice that influence adaptive capacity and risk perception.