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Back from the Brink

By Marian Spain & Dr Mike Clarke, 16th December 2015

In 2013, EFN published Passionate Collaboration. Earlier that year, 25 organisations had joined forces to produce State of Nature. Following the wonderfully understated comment that ‘all is not well’, in his foreword, Sir David Attenborough summed up two of the key points: firstly that ‘far more species are declining than increasing in the UK’ and secondly that ‘it is heartening to see so many organisations coming together’.

Since those reports, work has started on a number of partnership initiatives. One in particular is a good example of how environmental NGOs are addressing the issues in State of Nature by picking up two of the key themes in Passionate Collaboration, namely innovation and collaboration.

Seven NGOs, each of which puts species diversity at the heart of its strategy, committed to making a collective impact for common cause, collaborating in a novel way to make their joint efforts more effective than ever. Working with Natural England and drawing on the combined expertise of those who have identified what must be done for England’s most threatened species, they have developed a programme to help 130 species that most need and will most quickly benefit from focused action. We’ve called this Back from the Brink.

Conservationists from the eight organisations looked at the target species to work on: those under threat, and for which the required recovery actions have been identified and can be implemented. As they considered options, experts grouped species together and developed the idea of planning Integrated Projects. Instead of different charities working alongside each other, they proposed planning conservation together, so that staff can work on agreed actions to protect species across several taxa – a truly integrated approach.

In doing so they are breaking the mould, seeking to add to the environmental ‘play-book’, as recommended in the Passionate Collaboration conclusions. We want to do the same for how we inspire people to care about nature, including those species which some might think of as less charismatic. A joint approach to publicity and engagement gives us additional scope to be more effective at this as well.

The plans developed together have a total budget of £6.3m. While that’s not enough to save all England’s threatened species, it is enough to make a real difference and test out this new way of working.

We believe environmental funders can play important roles in helping collaborations like this to succeed. The benefits of the right partnerships delivering agreed joint objectives are clear, and developing and planning these requires more investment than a less ambitious programme.

The Back from the Brink partners have all contributed to this effort but it is challenging for many charities to find the resources required. We would encourage funders to support innovative partnerships at an early stage. Funding certainly helps, but the Passionate Collaboration conclusions also identified ways funders could provide in-kind support, perhaps by providing financial expertise, supporting partnership planning, facilitating workshops and helpfully challenging new ideas.

We hope more funders will welcome contact at an early stage and take an equally imaginative approach to helping with development. Modest investments at an early stage can pay huge dividends if proposals work. Delivery stage funding for new approaches will help ground-truth new techniques and build levels of support for the environment.

We are greatly encouraged that the Heritage Lottery Fund has just given Back from the Brink a Stage 1 pass. We’ll do more work on our plans over the next few months and are optimistic that this will lead to a final award of £4.5m towards the £6.3m target. We’re looking at different sources for our match funding. Natural England have pledged a substantial contribution. It is vital that we raise it and make the most of this exciting opportunity. We would be happy to discuss the partnership in more detail with EFN members and their contacts.

This project can establish a replicable, scaleable model for ambitious environmental collaborations. It needn’t end here. There is a host of imaginative ideas for partnerships in the UK, in the UK Overseas Territories, across Europe and further afield, and we look forward to working together to meet the environmental challenges ahead.

Marian Spain is chief executive of Plantlife and Dr. Mike Clarke is chief executive of the RSPB.


The seven NGOs are Amphibian & Reptile Conservation, Bat Conservation Trust, Buglife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife International, & RSPB. Natural England is the eighth member of the partnership.

For more information about Back from the Brink and to learn how you might support the initiative, please contact: Michele Kerry, Head of Project Development, Plantlife, 14 Rollestone St, Salisbury, SP1 1DX Tel : 01722 342739

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