Key agents for change

Protecting nature is so much more than saving threatened species. It is also about ensuring better livelihoods for people, securing community rights over natural resources, pioneering creative social enterprises, and halting climate change.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and environmental conservation are inextricably linked. It is civil society organisations who are delivering the innovative solutions needed to realise these goals and they need our support.

Supporting local conservation groups

We harness the knowledge, enthusiasm and potential of local conservation champions and support community and site-based organisations committed to conservation. Our 4000+ strong network of Local Conservation Groups reflects the diversity of culture, history, legislation and social norms which ensure conservation success.

Investing in local grassroots organisations

Our work through the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund is tackling threats to the world’s biodiversity hotspots by investing in local civil society to protect nature. We have managed highly impactful conservation grant programmes in the Mediterranean, Indo-Burma, the Guinean Forests and Eastern Afromontane.

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  • Empowering local conservation groups
  • Protecting biodiversity through local organisations

KENVO: empowering local communities to protect their forest for decades to come

For conservation to be sustainable in the long term, it needs to run by the people living closest to the habitats under threat. Kijabe Environment Volunteers (KENVO) is a community-based organisation that perfectly embodies this sense of ownership. Community members living adjacent to the Kikuyu Escarpment Forests in Kenya formed KENVO in the 1990s, when they realised that human threats to the forest were increasing and the ecosystem was being degraded. 

With support from BirdLife between 2000 – 2005, KENVO has grown from a small team into an influential force for nature, improving community livelihoods, reducing threats to biodiversity and developing youth leadership programmes. Working with key stakeholders including government departments, research institutions, the private sector and development agencies, KENVO informs, educates and empowers communities to embrace conservation practices that can be sustained and financed for years to come. Furthermore, through networking opportunities with other local groups via Nature Kenya (BirdLife Partner), KENVO has shared its knowledge and experience across the country and the wider BirdLife Partnership. 


hectares of degraded forest restored


trees planted through schools programme


Decline in poaching because of community patrols and improved forest management

The impact of the organisation has been tangible. To date, KENVO has restored 500 hectares of formerly degraded forest, planted over 80,000 trees through their schools programme, and supported local community members to manage their own tree nurseries and contribute to reforestation. In addition, as a result of community patrols and improved forest management, poaching has declined to almost zero.

Thanks to KENVO’s strong partnerships with local Community Forest Associations, the Kenya Forest Service and a wide range of other stakeholders, the future of the Kikuyu Escarpment forest seems secure. 

Guinean Forests of West Africa: protecting a Biodiversity Hotspot from the ground up

The Guinean Forests of West Africa Biodiversity Hotspot stretches across 621,705 km2. This verdant habitat has an extraordinary species richness, hosting 416 mammal species – nearly a quarter of mainland Africa’s mammals – and 917 bird species. What’s more, many of these are found nowhere else in the world. Tragically, more than 85 percent of its native vegetation has already been destroyed to meet the needs of an ever-expanding human population. Agriculture, unsustainable logging and fishing, hunting, mining and pollution – to name just a few – are all degrading this unique ecosystem. Many of these threats are linked, either directly or indirectly, to poverty, political instability or civil conflict. 

In order to tackle this, in 2016 the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) set out to provide civil society organisations with the tools, training and resources to manage the sites they live in and around. Implemented by BirdLife, the investment aimed to integrate nature conservation into government policies and business strategies, fill information gaps through research, and empower local civil society organisations including Indigenous peoples’, women’s and youth groups.  

Grant recipients ranged from well-known international NGOs to local, grassroots organisations. In Guinea, the CEPF enabled local group Développement Pour Tous to introduce new technology allowing salt to be produced using sunlight and tarpaulins instead of fuelwood. The project worked closely with local women to ensure the new practices were permanently integrated. In Côte d’Ivoire, Conservation des Especes Marines is working with local and national stakeholders to create a Marine Protected Area, which will be the first to exist in the country. In Sierra Leone and Nigeria, the CEPF funds local women’s groups Muloma Women’s Development Association and the Society for Women and Vulnerable Groups Empowerment, working to engage communities in sustainable livelihoods and reduce pressure on natural resources.


projects funded in 9 countries


communities benefiting from sustainable livelihood and job creation initiatives


Key Biodiversity Areas benefiting from conservation action

To date, 42 projects have been funded in nine countries. Researchers have updated the information on around 1,200 freshwater species and 300 plant species, and the populations of 38 globally threatened species are expected to stabilise or increase a result as a result of CEPF-funded projects. What’s more, 41 Key Biodiversity Areas are directly benefiting from conservation action.

The benefits don’t just extend to nature, however. CEPF-funded projects are training 73 local and indigenous communities and advocate for land tenure and forestry reforms, and 159 communities have profited from sustainable livelihood and job creation initiatives. Overall, the new research and outreach is set to influence at least twelve government policies and five private businesses, proving that – like a forest – the best way to grow is from the ground up.

Eastern Afromontane Hotspot – investing in people to build lasting change

Nature’s impacts are felt locally, by local people. Our work through the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) tackles threats to some of the world’s most species-rich areas by investing in civil society, so that local citizens and organisations can continue to safeguard the nature they know and love. From the Mediterranean to Indo-Burma, to the Guinean Forests and Eastern Afromontane region, we have managed grants enabling local groups to protect crucial biodiversity hotspots.

CEPF investment goes beyond just funding, though – BirdLife and our Partners act as Regional Implementation Teams for these hotspots, meaning we provide expert staff to support grantees on the ground, build networks, and guide funding to the most important areas, reaching even the smallest organisations.


Protected areas expanded and identified


Reduced the extinction risk of 27 species


New species discovered

The Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot runs from Saudi Arabia and Yemen in the Middle East, through to Zimbabwe and Mozambique in southern Africa. It stretches over an arc of mountains that act as “sky islands” for an astonishing diversity of species. Its habitats are also life-sustaining systems for millions of people, providing clean water, climate regulation and many other services.

In 2011, surveys conducted by BirdLife International and Conservation International identified 2,350 plant species, 157 bird species and 100 mammal species found nowhere else in the world. They also pinpointed conservation priorities for the area. These included integrating biodiversity into wider development policies, improving the protection of Key Biodiversity Areas within the hotspot, and providing finance and leadership to local organisations.

CEPF’s investment in the Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot ran from 2012 to 2020, with the Regional Implementation Team consisting of BirdLife International, EWNHS (BirdLife in Ethiopia) and IUCN Eastern and Southern Africa. During this period, we facilitated grants to 103 organisations across 13 countries, training 249 people in project management, proposal writing and other skills that would allow them to continue their vital work for years to come. We also organised exchange visits so that grantees could learn directly from other organisations.

Grantees varied widely in size and theme, but their successes were always cause for celebration. Local grass-root group the Crane Conservation Volunteers saw the number of Grey Crowned-cranes in the area increase every year since the project began. The organisation is now a respected partner working to get Lake Ol’ Bolossat formally protected. The women’s group Women and Children Empowerment and Development Uganda hired an accountant, developed a membership plan and professionalized its relationship with local government. The Forest of Hope Association of Rwanda transitioned from a research base with a temporary protected area manager to a critical partner of the Rwandan Development Board.

Overall, the project created or expanded 11 protected areas, reduced the extinction risk of 27 globally threatened species, and discovered six brand new species – showing the lasting impact we can achieve by working from the ground up.

Strengthening the BirdLife Partnership

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Developing future
conservation leaders

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