Conversation with a conservation legend

April 14, 2016

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The Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) is always keen to spread the word about the vital work undertaken by its award-winning teams of aspiring conservationists. But it’s not every day that we have the opportunity to showcase our work in the presence of a conservation legend. Last week’s official opening of a new global conservation campus in Cambridge, UK was one of those rare occasions.

Housed in the recently renamed David Attenborough Building, the Cambridge Conservation Initiative is a unique collaboration. It brings together in a single location the world’s largest cluster of university researchers and nature conservation organisations (including BirdLife International and Fauna & Flora International who, together with the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society, make up the triumvirate of CLP partners).

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Appropriately enough, the task of declaring the building officially open fell to the man himself, Sir David Attenborough. During a preliminary visit to prepare for the opening event, and much to the consternation of his many admirers, the indefatigable naturalist and presenter had insisted on abseiling down the living wall of plants in the central atrium.

Before addressing the assembled guests in a packed auditorium, Sir David took the opportunity to tour the building, meet its occupants, and find out more about some of the groundbreaking initiatives with which they are involved, including the Conservation Leadership Programme, one of the best examples of collaborative partnership.

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A graduate of the University of Cambridge, Sir David is closely associated with many of the organisations based in the campus, and is in no doubt about the benefits of collaboration: “Our natural world is threatened as never before. The threats are both numerous and interrelated, and no single institution, however effective, can hope to address them all alone. It is for this reason that the work of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative is so exceptional. By bringing together leaders in research, practice, policy and teaching, we stand the greatest chance of developing the solutions required to save our planet. I am enormously proud that these collaborations are occurring in a building bearing my name.”

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The Cambridge Conservation Initiative is a strategic collaboration between the University of Cambridge, CLP partners BirdLife International and Fauna & Flora International, and seven other biodiversity conservation organisations. The initiative’s Executive Director, Dr Mike Rands, echoed Sir David’s view and also highlighted the importance of nurturing new talent and developing networks to increase conservation capacity across the globe, themes that are central to the work of CLP itself:

“The new campus provides a unique, collaborative space for integrating nature conservation research and practice, and developing conservation leaders. The campus makes the sharing of knowledge, networks and experiences between people and institutions much more effective. The excitement and energy within the building have been palpable since the moment the first occupants moved in; it offers an exceptional platform from which to transform the landscape of global biodiversity conservation.”

Over 500 conservation experts have moved into the campus, including 150 academics from seven departments at the University of Cambridge, and over 350 conservation practitioners from nine biodiversity conservation organisations. No doubt the building will play host to many CLP award winners in future, as they come together to share ideas and experiences in this dynamic and inspiring conservation hub.

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