Our Story

“those who learned to collaborate… most effectively have prevailed”

The importance of collaboration was clearly identified over a hundred years ago in 1859 by Charles Darwin (a Cambridge student) in The Origin of Species “In the long history of humankind (and animal kind too), those who learned to collaborate… most effectively have prevailed”.

Perhaps this was in mind when, in 2007, a group of leading conservation organisations together with the University of Cambridge agreed a new and transformational approach was needed to address the perilous state of global biodiversity. It is unlikely though that they imaged just how much could be achieved when they proposed a formal collaboration - the Cambridge Conservation Initiative.

2007 - The Cambridge Conservation Initiative is formed

A Steering Committee is established to run the Initiative and its first staff member is appointed.

2008 - Dr Mike Rands; the first Executive Director of CCI is appointed

2009 - Inaugural CCI Seminar at Cambridge Judge Business School

2009 - The CCI Collaborative Fund is established

Since then over 60 collaborative projects have been funded, each comprising of staff from Cambridge University as well as from at least two other CCI partners.

2010 - The MPhil in Conservation Leadership welcomes its first students

In its first decade the highly esteemed course welcomed 181 students from over 80 countries.

2015 - Plans for a new conservation campus get under way

2018 - The Endangered Landscapes Programme launches

Working across Europe, ELP builds a future in which landscapes are enriched with biodiversity, establishing resilient, more self-sustaining ecosystems that benefit both nature and people

2018 - The Natural Capital Hub launches

The Hub brings together CCI partners unparalleled range of expertise and experience relevant to making the values of biodiversity matter across policy, business, finance and civil society.

2020 - Dr Mike Maunder becomes CCI Executive Director

After 13 years at the helm, we bid farewell to Mike Rands as he moves on to become Master at Darwin College at Cambridge University. Dr Mike Maunder takes up the mantle.

2022 - Sir David joins us in conversation

Spilling the beans on why he loves CCI and why looking after the Earth is so important.

2022 - Endangered Landscapes Artist Residencies Announced

Eight residencies placed in endangered landscapes across Europe to enable collaborative, interdisciplinary arts practice that celebrates both the landscapes and the local communities.


The University of Cambridge has a long tradition of studying the natural world and how the human species interacts with it. Some of the earliest and most pioneering nature conservation in the UK also has its origins in and around the city, such as the establishment of one of the country’s first nature reserves at Wicken Fen.

Like many ‘new big ideas’ CCI was conceived in several ways. A key step in building the informal connections on which CCI is built was the establishment of the Cambridge Conservation Forum in 1998. Soon after, the University of Cambridge formed a Conservation Working Group of leading academic staff from across disciplines interested in conservation. They were instrumental in developing a vision that would bring research and practice together to collaborate for the benefit of nature.

A study carried out by FFI, on behalf of the Cambridge conservation community, and funded by the Lisbet Rausing Charitable Trust (now Arcadia), explored the barriers to cross-organizational and interdisciplinary collaboration. This recognized three challenges:

  • building trust,
  • securing funding and
  • creating opportunities to encounter others with similar interests.

Addressing these, through developing collaborative approaches to deliver transformational change became the rationale for CCI.

Support for establishing the collaboration came from the late HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh – then Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, Sir David Attenborough – now CCI Honorary Patron, and Professor (now Dame) Alison Richard – then Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge.