UK biodiversity renewal project to revive nature and communities receives £10 million investment

Posted on 1st March 2022

Researchers at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health are part of a University of Exeter team who have received £10 million to investigate and tackle biodiversity loss in the UK through partnerships and community action.

The ‘Renewing biodiversity through a people-in-nature approach’ (RENEW) project will work with landowners, businesses, and communities to restore woodlands, wetlands and farmland across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The project will put people at the centre of action on biodiversity renewal and build expertise across different sectors and communities to address the environment and climate crisis.

The collaboration between the University of Exeter and the National Trust has received funding through a grant from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Project lead, Professor Kevin Gaston at the University of Exeter and founding Director of the Environment and Sustainability Institute in Cornwall said: “We’re delighted to receive such a significant investment from the Natural Environment Research Council which will give nature in the UK a critical boost.

“Currently, the UK is one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries, with 40% of monitored species having declined in abundance in recent decades. We rely on the biodiversity of the planet’s ecosystem to provide oxygen, pollination of plants, food and much more, making this a crucial time to act.

“We will bring together wide-ranging research and partnership expertise with environmental and community intelligence to create the sustainable solutions required.

“The UK government has committed to reversing UK biodiversity decline by 2030 through a legally binding target on species abundance and the RENEW project will play a major part in reaching that goal.

RENEW will be focusing on several challenges including:

  • How community support for biodiversity renewal can be harnessed
  • How people who are disengaged, disadvantaged, or disconnected from nature can benefit from inclusion in solutions development
  • How renewal activities can be designed and delivered by diverse sets of land-managers and interest groups
  • How biodiversity renewal can most effectively be embedded into finance and business activities

The team from ECEHH which includes Associate Professor Benedict Wheeler, Dr Lewis Elliot and Dr Jo Garrett, will focus on the first theme, exploring how community support for biodiversity renewal can be harnessed. Positive nature interactions have  been predicted to have important effects on people’s emotions and attitudes toward nature, and on the likelihood and extent of their exhibiting pro biodiversity behaviours. However, studies of these effects remain sparse. Likewise, there is poor understanding of how personalised ecologies change and are shaped by events through the life course, and how they may alter in face of biodiversity renewal or environmental changes.

Professor Rosie Hails, Director of Science and Nature at the National Trust and co-lead of the project said: “This is a tremendous opportunity to trial solutions to renew biodiversity at a landscape scale by co-designing approaches with communities and land managers. The next five to ten years are critical for making the step change needed to tackle the nature crisis and to alter the current trajectory of biodiversity loss.”

The £10 million from NERC forms a quarter of their £40 million investment to find resolutions to environmental issues caused by climate change.

Professor Sir Duncan Wingham, Executive Chair of NERC, said: “As COP26 has shown, it’s imperative that we invest in world-leading science to find solutions now to climate change and recovery of our natural environment. This investment by NERC will enable an ambitious step change in how the best science from across different disciplines can come together to address major environmental challenges facing the UK and support the transition to a Net Zero and nature-positive future.”

Date: 15 February 2022

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