Renewing biodiversity through a people-in-nature approach (RENEW)

RENEW is a five-year partnership programme to develop solutions to one of the major environmental challenges for humankind: the renewal of biodiversity. Funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the programme is a collaboration between the University of Exeter and the National Trust, and has been co-designed and developed with 33 partners from a diverse range of sectors. RENEW is led by Professors Neil Gow, Kevin Gaston, and Catriona Mckinnon from the University of Exeter, and Professor Rosie Hails from the National Trust.

Programme Overview

We are in a biodiversity crisis. A million species of plants and animals are threatened with global extinction, and wildlife populations across much of the planet have been dramatically reduced. This is of profound concern because biodiversity underpins human existence. RENEW is working, with a sense of urgency, to reshape understanding and action on biodiversity renewal across scales, creating knowledge, and influencing national institutions, communities and individuals. Our focus is on a ‘people-in-nature’ approach, reflecting the two-way, dynamic relations between people and nature and the need to develop a relational approach to renew our life-support systems. We are working with landowners, businesses, and communities to restore woodlands, wetlands and farmland across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

RENEW is focussed on a set of key challenges: how popular support for biodiversity renewal can be harnessed; how populations that are disengaged, disadvantaged, or disconnected from nature can benefit from inclusion in solutions development; how renewal activities can be designed and delivered by diverse sets of land-managers and interest groups; and how biodiversity renewal can most effectively be embedded in finance and business activities.

RENEW consists of four core themes, underpinned by three cross-cutting themes:

  • Theme 1: Individual Actors – Generating better understanding of individuals’ engagement with nature (‘personalised ecologies’) to improve the effectiveness of methods used to develop public support for large-scale biodiversity renewal.
  • Theme 2: Community Action – Co-designing fair and inclusive programmes to increase connection between diverse communities and biodiversity renewal activities and their benefits.
    • Theme 3: Land Managers – Developing a strategic approach to integrated landscape-scale renewal based on real-world opportunities and constraints that are co-designed and delivered with diverse land-managers.
  • Theme 4: Business & Finance Decision-makers – Developing new tools and standards for embedding biodiversity renewal in finance and business activities.
  • X1: Environmental Intelligence – Developing a novel capability in ‘environmental intelligence’, using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to integrate big data to support delivery and shape behavioural change strategies to enable biodiversity renewal.
  • X2: Exeter Centre for Analysis & Synthesis of Environmental Solutions (ExCASES) – Implementing an agile mechanism for identifying solutions to biodiversity renewal in a wider array of contexts, particularly responding to the changing policy landscape.
  • X3: Collaboration in Practice – Learning from RENEW and prior investments to identify and promote best practice in inter- and transdisciplinary working.

Biodiversity renewal is a complex and whole system problem. To address the critical decline in biodiversity, RENEW’s themes are working to create research outputs that will lead to action on the ground. We recognise that solutions require the creation of a new kind of inclusive and diverse research community, that transcends traditional boundaries between the disciplines. Solutions also need to address the inequalities and lack of diversity found in current renewal practices. Our approach therefore prioritises partnership building, to allow us to combine research with experiment, learning, sharing, outreach and impact, across relevant organisations and wider communities.

This approach will lead to long term outcomes, including:

  • Renewed biodiversity
  • More effective engagement with partners and communities
  • Better biodiversity decision making
  • More equitable and inclusive distribution of renewal benefits
  • Better investment decisions and economic prosperity
  • The next generation of interdisciplinary research leaders
  • The UK positioned as an international leader on biodiversity decision making.

The RENEW community includes academics, support staff, and partners from across the environmental sciences, data science, environmental intelligence, social sciences, politics, humanities, business and economics.

Leadership Team

  • Professor Neil Gow, University of Exeter
  • Professor Kevin Gaston, University of Exeter
  • Professor Catriona Mckinnon, University of Exeter
  • Professor Rosie Hails, The National Trust


  • Dr Amy Binner, University of Exeter
  • Dr Angela Cassidy, University of Exeter
  • Dr John Clarke, University of Exeter
  • Dr Sarah Crowley, University of Exeter
  • Dr Regan Early, University of Exeter
  • Dr Lewis Elliott, University of Exeter
  • Professor Ben Groom, University of Exeter
  • Professor Matthew Heard, The National Trust
  • Professor Oliver James, University of Exeter
  • Professor Timothy Lenton, University of Exeter
  • Professor Matt Lobley, University of Exeter
  • Dr Rebecca Lovell, University of Exeter
  • Dr Ilya Maclean, University of Exeter
  • Dr Charles Masquelier, University of Exeter
  • Dr Alice Moseley, University of Exeter
  • Professor Susan Molyneux-Hodgson, University of Exeter
  • Professor Gail Whiteman, University of Exeter Business
  • Dr Xiaoyu Yan University of Exeter Engineering

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