Our Story

Our continued existence on Earth depends on biodiversity and the natural capital it represents.

Despite growing worldwide awareness of the perilous state of global biodiversity, measures to address conservation concerns are not being incorporated into mainstream policies and practices. Transformational approaches are therefore needed to understand, conserve and restore our planet’s biodiversity.

“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. Interestingly, even the importance of collaboration – the very essence of CCI, was identified in 1859 by Charles Darwin (a Cambridge student) on The Origin of Species “In the long history of humankind (and animal kind too), those who learned to collaborate… most effectively have prevailed”.

Like many ‘new big ideas’ CCI was conceived in several ways. The growing number of University scholars working on conservation soon attracted key science-based conservation organisations to the area who in turn attracted like-minded institutions. 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.

Key individuals spoke out in support of creating such a collaboration between the University of Cambridge and leading conservation organisations to better integrate research, learning, policy and practice for the conservation of nature. Among them were 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.

With such distinguished foundations and founders, and mounting concern that the conservation of nature needed new ideas and solutions, the ten organisations that now form CCI came together in 2007 to create this unique collaboration”.

– Dr Mike Rands, Founding Executive Director

Timeline of events at CCI

2007 - The Cambridge Conservation Initiative is formed

A Steering Committee is established to run the Initiative and its first staff member is appointed (a Shared Challenges Programme Manager)

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

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.

2016 - The Conservation Campus in the David Attenborough Building officially opened by Sir David Attenborough

The CCI Arts, Science and Conservation Programme launches

2017 - CCI hosts its first major public event: Earth Optimism

2018 - The Endangered Landscapes Programme launches

2018 - The Natural Capital Hub launches

2020 - Dr Mike Maunder becomes CCI Executive Director