Two funds helping to protect the environment

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Washing coffee to ensure high quality and improve farmers' incomes (Credit: Emily Garthwaite)

LTS International, the newest addition to the NIRAS Group, manages two funds aimed at helping the environment – one focused on halting biodiversity loss and the other on putting a stop to the illegal wildlife trade

January 29, 2019
  • SDG: #15, #13, #14, #16, #5, #6, #8, #1, #2
  • SECTORS: Environment and Ecology, Development Consulting
  • DONOR: Defra (and additionally FCO for Darwin Plus)
  • CLIENT: Defra (and additionally FCO for Darwin Plus)
  • DURATION: 2003–ongoing

The protection of biodiversity worldwide is becoming an increasingly crucial task, especially in the face of the many other challenges which must be overcome. Climate change, an accelerating rate of forest clearings, the conversion of natural habitats for agriculture, pollution, unsustainable use of natural resources, and the proliferation of alien species all threaten biodiversity. The reality that thousands of species of plants, mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and others are likely to become extinct seems bad enough for pure conservation reasons. However, the loss of these species has severe real-world implications for many people living in poverty worldwide. Some 80% of the world’s poor live in rural areas and are dependent on various natural resources for survival – the very same natural resources that are now under threat.

Moreover, a diverse natural ecosystem plays a crucial role in the economy through food provision, employment creation, trade, and climate change mitigation. For these reasons, the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change estimated that an increase of 2 °C in the global average temperature would lead to the extinction of 15% to 40% of species worldwide, with a cost equivalent to between 5% and 20% of global GDP every year.

It is therefore no surprise that there are widespread efforts to protect biodiversity worldwide, but there is an added dimension to the challenge: Most of the world’s biodiversity is based in lower- and middle-income countries that do not have the resources necessary to protect their natural resources efficiently .

Funding ways to fight biodiversity loss

In 1992, the Government of the United Kingdom launched the Darwin Initiative at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, with the goal of supporting developing nations in meeting their objectives under the newly signed Convention on Biological Diversity. Run by the UK Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Darwin Initiative offered grant funding to projects worldwide that were focused on protecting biodiversity in lower- and middle-income countries and UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs).

Since then, the Darwin Initiative has expanded both in terms of its main goal and support focus. After Defra joined forces with the UK Department for International Development (DFID) in 2010, it was necessary for the initiative to take on a dual objective: conserving biodiversity in order to promote poverty alleviation. As a result, all projects applying for a grant from the Darwin Initiative from then on had to meet Official Development Assistance (ODA) requirements, which means that all projects must show how they contribute both to biodiversity and poverty alleviation in terms of contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Seedling Nursery
Coffee seedling nursery at Yayu, with the forest in the background (Credit: Emily Garthwaite)

Ethiopia: Climate resilience and adaptation to climate change impact

All projects under the Darwin Initiative have a dual focus of biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation, with climate resilience and adaptation to climate change impacts becoming an increasing priority. One such project works in the Yayu Reserve in Ethiopia, an extremely biodiverse reserve and one of the most important storehouses of wild genetic resources for Arabica coffee. Coffee farming occurs within/around the reserve, generating up to 70% of the cash income for over 90% of the local population. Yayu has been identified as climatically sensitive and thus low coffee prices are especially problematic because farmers have a reduced capacity to adapt to climatic perturbations and climate change. The overarching model of the project is to increase the income for the farmers who grow, harvest, and process the coffee at Yayu by improving coffee quality and providing sustainable access to markets. With improved coffee prices, farmers also have the potential to invest in coffee-farming, including adaptation to climate change.

Currently, the Darwin Initiative is funded by Defra (with additional Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) funding supporting projects focused on UKOTs through the Darwin Plus scheme) and provides grants for projects active in developing countries that support:

  • the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD);
  • the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-Sharing (ABS);
  • the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA);
  • the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES);
  • the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands; and
  • the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).
The Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros is one endangered species that calls the Shukla Phanta National Park home.

Nepal: Role of unconventional partners in long-term conservation

Partnerships are a key feature of Darwin projects. Sometimes, surprising partnerships make the biggest difference. A Darwin project in Nepal set out to tackle the problem of illegal livestock grazing in the core areas of Shukla Phanta National Park in the far west of Nepal. The park boasts some of Nepal’s greatest biodiversity, including several globally threatened, iconic species such as the Bengal tiger, the greater one-horned rhinoceros, and the Asian elephant. But it is also in a densely populated area, and the local community is heavily dependent on forests for grazing their livestock, mostly buffalo. To reduce this pressure, the project promoted a more productive, but more expensive, cattle breed. This required that communities have the financial capital to purchase them, the veterinary services to keep them healthy, and the access to fodder to feed them without grazing them in the park. Establishing veterinary clinics led to engaging a range of unconventional stakeholders who are usually not associated with conservation efforts in this project, and they contributed hugely to its success and long-term impact. This highlights the enormous opportunities available when conservation efforts identify common ground and shared objectives between stakeholders working in different areas.

Darwin Initiative and Darwin Plus facts and figures


funding rounds held since 1993

UK£ 153 million

in grants awarded to approximately 1,123 projects in over 159 countries


international organisations and 200 British institutions have been involved in Darwin projects to date.

LTS International, now part of the NIRAS family, was contracted to support the management of the Darwin Initiative in 2003. LTS has been responsible for managing as many as 743 grant applications per year; monitoring and evaluating over 100 live projects at any given time; financial management of the projects; providing technical support to projects, such as answering their queries and supporting the development of the monitoring and evaluation systems; commissioning studies, analyses, and briefing notes; and managing the Darwin Initiative’s website and digital communications. Furthermore, LTS was instrumental in the launch of new sub-funds, which means that there are a range of funds available for different project types: Darwin main projects, fellowships, and partnership projects, as well as projects and fellowships under the Darwin Plus fund.

Our Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund is driving change to combat this despicable criminality and highlights our global leadership in protecting wildlife in its natural environment. The fund’s priorities reflect our commitment in the 25-Year Environment Plan to work with other nations to stamp out this vile trade.

Our Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund is driving change to combat this despicable criminality and highlights our global leadership in protecting wildlife in its natural environment. The fund’s priorities reflect our commitment in the 25-Year Environment Plan to work with other nations to stamp out this vile trade.

Bringing an end to the illegal wildlife trade

Prioritising the themes laid out in the London Conference, the Kasane Conference, and the Hanoi Conference, the UK government launched the Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) Challenge Fund in 2014. The IWT Challenge Fund’s goal is to put a stop to the illegal trade in wildlife and their products, the fifth most lucrative criminal activity in the world.

Trade in illegal wildlife is currently worth up to UK£17 billion worldwide. It is a major threat to several endangered species and plays a big part in the destruction of crucial ecosystems. In addition to this, it fosters corruption, feeds insecurity, and undermines good governance and the rule of law.

As it is a sister fund to the Darwin Initiative, LTS is responsible for the IWT Challenge Fund’s management support under the same contract. In fact, the IWT Challenge Fund issued its first grants in 2014 as part of the Darwin Initiative before inviting applications directly to the fund in the following year.

Because the fund is part of the UK’s ODA, it also requires participating projects to contribute to developing countries’ sustainable development in some way, while addressing at least one of the following themes:

  • Developing sustainable livelihoods and economic development, to benefit people directly affected by IWT
  • Strengthening law enforcement
  • Ensuring effective legal frameworks
  • Reducing demand for IWT products

Contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals

Due to the nature of activities engaged in by the recipient projects, which have a dual focus on conservation and poverty alleviation, the Darwin Initiative and the IWT Challenge Fund contribute to a number of SDGs. Across both funds, projects significantly contribute towards SDG 1 (end poverty in all its forms everywhere) and SDG 15 (sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss) as well as the SDG 14 (conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development) and SDG 6.6 (protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers, and lakes). Furthermore, UK law requires that their ODA recipients discourage discrimination against women and girls, which means that all grant recipients must address SGD 5 (achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls) in some way by mainstreaming gender in their activities as far as possible and gathering data that is disaggregated by gender.

In order to fulfil the requirement to address sustainable development in their target countries, grant projects are expected to also address other SDGs as part of their activities. Due to the wide variety of projects funded by both the Darwin Initiative and the IWT Challenge Fund, nearly all of the SDGs are covered between them.

Find out more

Take a look at our by-the-numbers impact statement on the Darwin Initiative here. You can find out about specific projects funded through the Initiative on the Darwin website. You can also hear stories and see fantastic photographs from current projects in our quarterly newsletter. Please contact if you would like to be added to the mailing list.

More information on the IWT Challenge Fund can be found here.

IWT Challenge Fund facts and figures


funding rounds held since 2014


projects supported

UK£ 18 million

in grants awarded

Get in touch

Eilidh Young

Eilidh Young

Application manager

Edinburgh, United Kingdom

0131 440 5500

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