The Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI) is a new and pioneering partnership formed by the University of Cambridge and leading conservation organisations.

Conserving global biodiversity presents us with a major challenge in the 21st century, requiring interdisciplinary collaboration across research, policy, practice and education. By creating CCI, the Cambridge conservation community has taken a unique step towards tackling this challenge in a most exciting and innovative way.

Professor Dame Alison Richard, former Vice-Chancellor

The Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI) is a new and pioneering partnership formed by the University of Cambridge and leading conservation organisations. Its aim is to create an international centre of interdisciplinary collaboration and outreach that will transform conservation research, policy and practice for the benefit of biodiversity and humanity.

Scale of the challenge

Biological diversity – the myriad of genes, species and ecosystems – underpins the life- support systems for our planet and for the survival of life on earth. Clean air, pure water, foods, medicines and natural materials are all produced or maintained by the plants, animals and microbes that make up biodiversity and the ‘ecosystem services’ they provide.

However, an increasing body of research, including significant contributions from Cambridge, shows that humans are destroying species, habitats and ecosystems more rapidly and more extensively than ever before. Extinction rates of species are estimated to be more than 1000 times higher than would occur through natural evolution and, if climate change continues at current levels, a third of all living species are likely to be committed to extinction by 2050. In a global assessment of ecosystem services it was recently concluded that 60% are being seriously depleted or used unsustainably. It has become clear that such widespread impacts on biodiversity have profound negative implications for human welfare.

Set against this gloomy picture for global biodiversity is some more encouraging news. Our detailed knowledge of the status and distribution of species and ecosystems, and of the threats they face, is growing rapidly. An impressive range of government legislation and policy for biodiversity conservation and wider environmental management has appeared over the past 25 years, at local, national and international scales. Public understanding of nature, its beauty, value and rapid demise, has grown enormously. Such public interest and concern has resulted in an increasing number of organisations that carry out a wide range of practical conservation programmes. Yet, despite such progress, extinctions continue and habitat loss remains a major threat to life on earth and human wellbeing. If progress is to be sustained, there needs to be a new approach that will bridge the gulf between research, policy, practice and training in biodiversity conservation. This challenge is at the heart of CCI.

Pioneering change

CCI will carry out innovative research across disciplines and forge entrepreneurial collaborations that generate cross-cutting policy analysis and evidence-based practical advice, drawing on and integrating biological, social, economic and political science. Through its members (see panel), CCI will harness a unique and diverse international network across business, government and intergovernmental agencies, civil society and academia.

Research has already benefitted from the types of collaborations it is anticipated that CCI will foster on a larger scale. For example, Professor Bill Adams in the Department of Geography has been working with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and a wide international network on a project to develop the next generation of thinking about sustainable development, recently published by IUCN as a book entitled Transition to Sustainability: Towards a Humane and Diverse World. Professor Andrew Balmford and colleagues in the Department of Zoology have worked with RSPB to coordinate a major review of the economic consequences of losing what is left of wild nature; the conclusion – that converting remaining habitat patches typically results in a net economic loss to society as a whole – was presented by RSPB and BirdLife International at the World Summit on Sustainable Development as well as to the UK Prime Minister. Professor Bill Sutherland, also in Zoology, has been bringing together a diverse array of policy makers to identify new problems facing biodiversity and key unanswered questions; in parallel, he has been working with conservation practitioners across the world to document evidence-based solutions.

Although CCI is still in its infancy, some innovative integrated approaches have already been created. In a Shared Challenges Programme between CCI members, collaborative projects have started on, for example: assessing the value of biodiversity in climate change adaptation; identifying the impacts of biofuel production on biodiversity; using remote sensing to measure and evaluate biodiversity; and developing mechanisms for biodiversity offsetting (similar to carbon offsetting).

Thanks to the generous support of Arcadia, the charitable foundation of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, CCI has just appointed its first Executive Director, Dr Mike Rands. The Executive Director’s role is to accelerate activities, foster new collaborations and partnerships, and drive forward plans for a purpose-built environmentally sound centre for biodiversity. Created around a new University of Cambridge Institute for Biodiversity Conservation, the centre will also host founder partners and other organisations, providing a vibrant intellectual environment and organisational hub with operational economies of scale and shared facilities.

Cambridge already has the largest cluster of conservation expertise in the world but the new centre will deliver a step change in our ability to attract researchers, engage with the policy sector and the business community, and deliver training and outreach. CCI’s goal is to harness for biodiversity conservation Cambridge’s exceptional power to shape thinking of mainstream decision makers and to exert decisive influence in the global arena.

For more information, please contact the authors Dr Mike Rands (; CCI Executive Director, Judge Business School), Professor Bill Adams (; Department of Geography); Professor Andrew Balmford (; Department of Zoology) and Professor Bill Sutherland (; Department of Zoology) or visit

Founder members of CCI

BirdLife International is a strategic global partnership of conservation organisations in over 100 countries, working to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, and to promote sustainability in the use of natural resources.

British Trust for Ornithology is an independent scientific research trust, investigating the populations, movements and ecology of wild birds in the British Isles.

Cambridge Conservation Forum is a network that links the diverse Cambridge-based community of conservation practitioners and researchers working at local, national and international levels.

Fauna & Flora International acts to conserve threatened species and ecosystems worldwide, delivering global and regional programmes of conservation and community projects.

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the world’s largest professional global conservation network, and supports scientific research, manages field projects and unites conservationists to develop and implement policy, laws and best practice.

RSPB is the largest wildlife conservation organisation in Europe, and works to secure the conservation of biodiversity – especially wild birds and their habitats – through research, education, habitat management and advocacy.

TRAFFIC is a global wildlife trade monitoring network which work
s to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature.

Tropical Biology Association works in partnership with African institutions to build expertise in biodiversity conservation and research.

UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre is a branch of the United Nations that undertakes synthesis, analysis and dissemination of global biodiversity knowledge for conventions, countries, organisations and companies.

University of Cambridge core Departments involved in CCI are Zoology, Plant Sciences, Geography, Land Economy, Judge Business School and the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership (CPSL; formerly the Cambridge Programme for Industry).


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