skip to content

Conservation Research Institute

David Attenborough in the DAB


"Catalysing Conservation: Bridging Disciplines, Shaping Leaders, Nurturing Change"



About Us

The institute fosters productive interdisciplinary dialogue, bringing together colleagues from various intellectual backgrounds and traditions. It conducts ambitious research that bridges natural sciences, technology, arts, humanities, and social sciences. Additionally, it plays a crucial role in the MPhil in Conservation Leadership program, a masters course at the University of Cambridge, and contributes to the broader University-wide sustainability education agenda.

The University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute are founding members of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI), a unique collaboration with ten leading biodiversity conservation organisations. Established in October 2013, (See article HERE) the Institute has expanded its role, supporting the University's presence, along with other CCI organisations in the David Attenborough Building, which was designed to enhance collaboration and the sharing of perspectives across organisational and disciplinary boundaries. As an Interdisciplinary Research Centre (IRC) since October 2016, it promotes collaboration and breaks down disciplinary silos by integrating conservation-related research from all six core University Schools.

In the 21st century, understanding and managing human impacts on organisms and ecosystems amid population growth, socio-economic development, and climate change is a major challenge. Biodiversity faces threats from over-consumption, over-exploitation, and unsustainable use of natural resources. Addressing these challenges requires a better understanding of nature's value and practical steps for equitable and effective planet stewardship. All of which is our mission to address and help to foster positive change.

Departmental Collaborations

The Cambridge Conservation Research Institute (CRI) operates within the diverse academic landscape of the University of Cambridge, encompassing all six academic schools, namely the Physical Sciences, Biological Sciences, Clinical Medicine, Technology, Humanities & Social Sciences, and Arts & Humanities. This comprehensive engagement enables the CRI to achieve several key objectives. Firstly, it facilitates an enhanced comprehension of complex human systems in relation to conservation challenges. Secondly, it nurtures and fosters an environment of research collaboration, fostering synergistic efforts to address pressing conservation issues. Thirdly, by engaging with various academic schools, the CRI plays a pivotal role in cultivating the next generation of conservation leaders, equipping them with the necessary knowledge and skills for impactful contributions. Moreover, this broad involvement within the University ensures a high-quality research environment, fostering innovation and excellence. Lastly, by spanning across academic disciplines, the CRI amplifies the potential for research outcomes to generate significant and tangible impacts, thereby advancing conservation endeavours and sustainability initiatives.

The Direct Impact of Our Collaborative Work at the CRI:

  • Addressing Climate Change: Forests contain 50% of Terrestrial Carbon Stocks
  • Safeguarding Food Production: 1/3rd of humanity's food crops depend on natural pollination
  • Empowering Communities: Fuel Wood as Primary Energy Source for 2.6 Billion People
  • Alleviating Poverty and Advancing SDGs: Natural Ecosystems as a Lifeline for the World's Poor
  • Nurturing Art and Culture: Nature's Inspiring Influence on Art, Music, Literature, & Spirituality
  • Enhancing Health and Medicine: 80% of US Prescription Drugs Sourced from Nature

Embracing Interdisciplinary Conservation

In today's world, the importance of breaking disciplinary boundaries to address complex societal and intellectual challenges, particularly in conservation, is widely recognised. Biodiversity conservation goes beyond species and habitat preservation; it involves understanding the intricate connections of ecosystem functions with sustainable human development, whether in natural or managed systems.

The CRI serves as a vital space for exploring interdisciplinary understanding and fostering productive dialogue among colleagues across the University. Effective collaboration thrives when grounded in robust approaches from established academic disciplines, which are tested and strengthened through critical engagement.

At the core of the CRI's activities lies the vision of enhancing existing University Departments and Schools. By facilitating research leaders and early-career scholars to collaborate and engage in beneficial dialogue, the CRI focuses on the challenges of human-nature relationships and societal responses to growing vulnerability and environmental change in an increasingly insecure world.

Academic Context & Challenge

The CRI's research tackles pressing societal challenges, including:

  • Finding sustainable ways to feed current and future human populations without ‘costing the earth.’
  • Exploring and articulating the contributions of nature to the delivery of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Creating strategies for human and planetary prosperity, integrating natural capital and circular economy principles.
  • Developing evidence-based solutions to avert the existential crises which arises from ecological collapse and climate breakdown that threatens human survival on our planet.

Biodiversity conservation goes beyond preserving species and habitats. It involves understanding ecosystem functions and their interaction with human well-being and prosperity. Both ecological and social systems shape, constrain and influence the ways in which humans interact with, and transform, nature. This work necessitates insights that draw on scholarship from a wide range of methodological and disciplinary perspectives – from spatial and temporal data and models that document and predict ecosystem change, to the values, governance, political and behavioural contexts that determine the types of interventions that society is willing to implement, and the likelihood of their effectiveness.

The CRI was established to address this need, focusing on interdisciplinary research in biodiversity conservation and its social context. The impact of academic research in this field relies on a willingness and ability to exchange views and information with other sectors of society. As a partner in CCI, the CRI is uniquely placed to feed new thinking and training into worldwide conservation practice and policy through the partner conservation organisations and their networks. Similarly the experience, knowledge and information from on-the-ground implementation of policy, practice, capacity building and conservation leadership informs the CRI’s research and teaching.

The Institute is one of the Interdisciplinary Research Centre of Cambridge University, with a network of more than 120 researchers from all six Schools of the University of Cambridge. It supports multidisciplinary research on biodiversity conservation and the social context within which humans engage with nature. Find out more