World-leading researchers at Kent to drive radical shift in conservation science 

Emily Collins
A view over the Kent countryside with wildflowers in the foreground

Kent has won a prestigious Research England grant, worth £8.3 million, which will enable the Durrell Institute of Conservation Ecology (DICE) to answer urgent environmental questions of international importance. 

The five-year project titled Sharing Space for Nature: enhancing the role of conservation areas in tackling current environmental crises is designed so that the world-leading DICE team can tackle three of the most important issues in conservation science; rewilding, the development of nature recovery networks and the role of community-managed conservation areas in global conservation. 

The project comes from the realisation that we need a radical shift in how we imagine, design and implement successful and inclusive conservation solutions at the landscape and seascape level. 

The Enabling Excellence in England (E3) grant will let DICE recruit 15 new posts, including three lectureships, over the next five years. Led by Professor Bob Smith, Director of DICE, the team will build on existing local, national and international partnerships to explore three strands of research. 

In collaboration with Kent Wildlife Trust, Canterbury County Council and the Wilder Blean Initiative, the project will deliver the first interdisciplinary research programme in England on new rewilding projects. This will help restore nature, increase human well-being, support the local economy and link terrestrial and marine conservation areas. 

A second strand will see DICE work with the South East Nature Partnership, Natural England and Defra to develop the UK’s first Community of Practice on designing conservation area networks in England using systematic conservation planning. A third strand will develop a global-level, interdisciplinary research programme on new types of community-managed conservation areas. For this, the team will work in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre and a number of government, non-governmental organisations and academic partners from ten countries including Cameroon, England, Guyana, Indonesia, Mozambique and Nepal. 

Shane Weller, DVC of Research and Innovation, said: ‘I am absolutely delighted at this major success for the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology. This award reflects the world-class research that is being undertaken by colleagues in conservation and ecology, and will enable us to build on our profile in this area, which is of vital importance regionally, nationally and internationally.’ 

Bob Smith added: ‘This E3 funding will be transformative and give DICE the capacity to make a real difference. We are really looking forward to working with our existing collaborators and building new partnerships, providing the research and evidence we need to develop conservation area networks that benefit wildlife and people.’ 

The Expanding Excellence in England (E3) fund aims to support small and excellent research units in higher education providers to expand and increase their activity where they have potential to grow. 

Founded in 1989, DICE is built on the recognition that interdisciplinary research has the most impact. Their work breaks down silos between the natural and social sciences and goes beyond to address complex real-world conservation challenges. The University of Kent was awarded a Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2019 in recognition of DICE’s ‘pioneering education, capacity building and research in global nature conservation to protect species and ecosystems and benefit people’.