Category: Biodiversity (Page 2 of 2)

King’s achieves ISO14001:2015 certification

King’s College London operates an Environmental Management System (EMS) across all campuses. In 2016, this system was externally audited at Strand Campus, and certified with the ISO14001:2015 standard.

This year, Estates & Facilities have worked to extend the certification to all campuses, including Residences and sports grounds. Following a successful external audit of all campuses, the Environmental Management System is now ISO14001:2015 certified across King’s Estates & Facilities. Professor Ed Byrne announced the great news at this year’s Sustainability Awards.

Solar panels on the roof of GDSA

Solar panels on the roof of GDSA

ISO14001 is an international standard which helps organisations use resources more efficiently and reduce waste. This achievement demonstrates the strong commitment and leadership for sustainability at King’s, which is apparent not only through the many initiatives underway, but through King’s Strategic Vision 2029, which has sustainability as one of the enabling foundations.

The EMS is at the heart of embedding sustainability at King’s, and takes a holistic view of the environmental impacts and risks arising from our activities. As well as minimising negative impacts, it drives improvement through identifying opportunities for King’s. One of the highlights noted in the audits were the opportunities for enhancing biodiversity. There is a lot of green space at our sports grounds, but even at our main campuses improvements have been made – such as the instalment of bird boxes and an insect hotel at Guy’s Campus.

BikeManMaughanLibrary420x280On achieving the certification, Nick O’Donnell (Acting Director of Estates & Facilities) said: “We’re delighted to receive the certification, and are very pleased to be recognised for the progress we are making in reducing our impacts. This is a fantastic achievement for all operational teams in Estates & Facilities and for our service partners, working across such a large and diverse organisation.”

Champion Hill win Student Switch Off!

Every year, King’s runs the NUS Student Switch Off competition in its halls of residence. The aim of the competition is to encourage students to save energy. We started the campaign in autumn with visits to every hall, and NUS continued it throughout the year with photo competitions, quizzes and lots of prizes.

At the end of each year, the hall that saved the most energy compared to the previous year wins a delivery of Ben & Jerry’s for their hall. This year, we upped the difficulty and added recycling scores to the mix. So on top of making sure they were energy-efficient, students had to take care with what they put in which bin.

This year, Champion Hill Residence were the lucky winners. They came second in the energy-saving ranking, but due to their great recycling performance they managed to take the overall trophy.

So on a sunny day last week, we headed down to reward Champion Hill residents for their effort. In total, we handed out 400 tubs of Ben & Jerry’s (as well as some vegan soy ice cream) to students! With exam period in full swing, this was a well-deserved break for many residents. See for yourself:

400 tubs of ice cream, ready to be handed out

400 tubs of ice cream, ready to be handed out

Signs at reception to direct students to our giveaway

Signs at reception to direct students to our giveaway

Ice cream time!

Ice cream time!

A sunny day during exam period was the perfect time for an ice cream giveaway/break

A sunny day during exam period was the perfect time for an ice cream giveaway/break

In addition to winning the Student Switch Off, Champion Hill also has a great range of sustainability initiatives. We have previously featured the Champion Hill Wormery on our blog, which exists in addition to composting bins. The courtyard also has a pond and a plot for a planned herb garden. Finally, Champion Hill also has a Combined Heat and Power Plant (CHP) and solar PV panels on the roof, making sure the energy used in the halls comes from more sustainable sources!

Building the Open City

SomersetBeing in the centre of London, our campuses are predominantly urban spaces. However, there are ways sustainability and biodiversity can be built into the city.

To give people the opportunity to find out more about this, Open City have organised Green Sky Thinking.

Green  Sky Thinking is a week-long programme of open events around how to design a more sustainable London. During the week, there are 50+ events, ranging from site visits to presentations.

It runs from the 15th to the 19th May 2017, and registration for sessions is open.

To find out more about the programme, visit the Green Sky Thinking Website.

How to deal with food waste: Introducing the Wormery

For most of us, food waste is an everyday reality. Whether it is buying vegetables we can’t quite finish, or cooking too much pasta or rice, it is hard to avoid. At Champion Hill Residence, students have two great alternatives to throwing food waste in the general waste bin – and one of them involves some very interesting ‘pets’.


Composting bin

In September this year, the Champion Hill team sent out emails to new residents to see if anyone was interested in a food composting project. Since then, 22 kitchens signed up and picked up their food waste caddies – that’s 25% of residents! The composting bin is located in the courtyard of Beech block, and open at the bottom to make it possible for insects to get inside and help the composting process. And it’s not just for food waste: paper and cardboard make composting more efficient – and less smelly.


The Wormery

But, hidden from sight, there is another way of breaking down food waste: a Wormery. In a wormery, a colony of worms eats through the food waste. While it might not sound nice, worms are highly efficient at dealing with waste, and leave behind useful by-products in the form of fertiliser for plants. The residence’s Sustainability Champion Holly found out about wormeries while researching food composting, and loved the idea. At the moment, the Champion Hill wormery is home to around 480 red tiger worms – a number that is expected to increase rapidly once the worms start breeding in the warmer months.


The healthy worm diet

They eat most things we eat: vegetables and fruit, peelings, bread, cake, and even pizza. To make sure they get a healthy diet, the team has placed a ‘worm menu’ next to the wormery (see picture). How quickly food waste is composted depends on the temperature: At the moment, worm activity is lower due to the cold, but activity and composting is expected to speed up when it gets warmer. And it turns out worms are not very demanding pets. Even though you do need to add a handful of lime mix every couple of weeks to prevent acid build-up (and to help the worms’ digestion!), once worms are fed they can be left alone for a few weeks.

The container is sealed, and liquid can be taken out through a tap at the bottom, which prevents the nasty smells we often associate with composting bins. This liquid is also rich in nutrients. Diluted, it can be sprayed onto plants as fertiliser.

And much like in conventional composting bins, the solid material worms leave behind can also be used to fertilise plants. Both the composting bin and wormery are relatively new, but once the fertiliser from both of them is ready in the spring/summer, the Champion Hill team plans to make the most of it.

Inside the wormery - no worms visible due to cold weather

Inside the wormery – no worms visible due to cold weather

One idea is to set up a herb garden in the residence, making the space more interesting for students, as well as adding to the biodiversity of the courtyard. If you have been at Champion Hill recently, you will have seen the early stages of this project. As a university, we are constantly working on improving our environmental footprint. Efforts such as the food composting projects by the Sustainability Champion Holly and the rest of the Champion Hill team are an excellent example of how this can be achieved through new and sometimes unusual ideas.

Resident at Champion Hill and want to compost food waste? Make sure you know what you can and cannot dispose of at Champion Hill by contacting the residence team. The composting bin is located in the courtyard of Beech block. The wormery is not directly open to students to make sure the worms get the correct diet, but food waste from participating kitchens is taken there by staff.

A Visit to Veolia’s Recycling Facilities

by Wendela Schim van der Loeff

On Friday morning, the King’s Sustainability Team and its Champions visited Veolia’s Integrated Waste Management Facilities (IWMF) in Southwark. Veolia is our waste contractor who services all of Southwark and many other parts of London. Operating under a circular economy business principle, Veolia seeks to turn waste back into resources that power our homes and industry. Waste to landfill is removed from the waste process and replaced by recycling or energy from waste. In smart societies of the future, Veolia sees production and consumption going hand-in-hand and one person’s waste will become another’s resource. Its aim is to further incorporate sustainable thought into the waste process, where the resources sector can make a realistic 10% contribution to the UK’s 2027 carbon reduction targets, through the decarbonisation of energy and its circular economy.


The Sustainability Team and Champions at IWMF

 Upon arrival at the Veolia site, the team was given an overview of the waste manager’s practices and operations within the waste and energy sectors, across London. Located in Southwark, this facility is able to process all of Southwark’s household waste and recyclables, helping to significantly improve recycling rates and reduce the impact that the borough’s waste has on the environment. The facility enables Veolia to divert the majority of Southwark’s waste away from landfill and provides energy to local social housing. We got to see the processes our recycles and general waste all go through as well as all the sustainability work Veolia does.

The facility comprises of 5 major areas:

  1. The Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) sorts recyclables collected from households.
  2. The Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) facility turns black bag waste into a fuel for energy recovery.
  3. The Reuse and Recycling Centre (RRC) supports waste prevention through a variety of reuse schemes.
  4. The Transfer Station (TS) provides a collection point for any materials that cannot be treated on site.
  5. The Recycling Discovery Centre (RDC) offers educational opportunities designed especially for primary school children.

Inside the IWMF. The materials are processed through disc screens, which separates resources.

Inside the IWMF. The materials are processed through disc screens, which separates resources.

 The Southwark treatment facility operates across a number of waste types. At the MRF, waste is split between cardboard, glass, juice cartons and more. 50% of recycled waste is sold to brokers in the UK and the other 50% is sold abroad.

The majority of King’s waste is taken for treatment by Veolia and it manages the majority of waste across London’s boroughs. How can King’s and its staff and students help mitigate waste from landfill and improve the value retained from waste, i.e. the recycling process?

– Those living in residences should be reminded what they can recycle (plastics, cardboard, glass, paper, tins, juice cartons). Batteries, clothing and electrical items can also be recycled at residences, but not in kitchen bins.

– During the sorting process, Veolia cannot take any risks with food contamination. This implies that when a pizza box is still intact and closed, it will not be recycled as there is a significant chance of it containing pizza leftovers. When you recycle your pizza boxes, make sure to flat pack them or take them apart.

– Remember that plastic carrier bags should not go in the recycling bin! They have to be picked out at the Materials Recovery Facility, as they could cause problems by getting stuck in the machinery. Drop them off at the designated plastic bag recycling point at your local supermarket instead.


Saving Gorillas in a Warzone in Congo

On Wednesday this week some of the biggest names in wildlife conservation attended the Tusk Conservation Awards at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The annual awards, now in their fourth year, recognise the African conservation heroes that dedicate their lives to protecting wildlife on their wonderful continent.

This year, John Kahekwa, the founder of a Congolese Gorilla Conservation organisation – the Pole Pole Foundation, which is a project partner for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Research project within the Marjan Centre for the Study of War and the Non-human Sphere, part of the War Studies department – has been awarded the highly prestigious Prince William Lifetime Award.

The award, presented by HRH Prince William and Sir David Attenborough, is one of the most prestigious conservation awards in the world and marks the fantastic work of John and the Pole Pole Foundation to secure the future for the Grauer’s Gorillas in the DRC.

John’s work has made a significant contribution to the Marjan Centre’s research for the last four years, providing a central case study for research and teaching as well as expert input into articles published by the centre and workshops attended by staff. John was awarded the Marjan-Marsh Award in 2012, an award for outstanding conservationists working in regions of conflict awarded by King’s in partnership with the Marsh Christian Trust.

John Kahekwa, director of the Pole Pole Foundation said,

“I am hugely honoured to receive the Tusk Lifetime Acheivement Award, and that a spotlight has been placed on our work with the gorillas in DR Congo. The award comes at a critical time, as these fantastic creatures have just been classified as critically endangered. Working as a project partner with King’s Marjan Centre for the Study of War andUNSDG #15 the Non-human Sphere has helped raise the profile of my wonderful country the DRC and also the innovative approach my foundation take to the conservation of gorillas.”

Richard Milburn, Sustainability projects assistant at King’s and the UK Representative of the Pole Pole Foundation said,

“This award provides the recognition John deserves for his phenomenal work in one of the most challenging regions of the world. John has worked to help communities and protect gorillas even during a horrific conflict that claimed the lives of 5 million Congolese people. He is an inspiration for us all, and it is a source of immense pride that we have links between John and King’s.”

Richard Milburn, Sustainability Projects Assistant


World Food Day Blog Post Banner - Wendela SvdL

One of the biggest issues related to climate change is food security. The world’s poorest – many of whom are farmers, fishers and pastoralists – are being hit by higher temperatures and an increasing frequency in destructive weather events, such as floods and hurricanes.

At the same time, the global population is growing steadily at a rate of 1.13% per year (this is currently estimated to be an average change of 80 million people per year!). Global population is expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050. There is a constant increase in the number of mouths to feed and the world’s resources are struggling to meet such a heavy demand.

According to the World Bank, the number of impoverished people will grow from the current 702 million to around a billion by 2030. Out of this increase, 100 million will become poor solely because of food price increases caused by climatic change. Agriculture and food systems will need to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change and become more resilient, productive and sustainable. This is the only way that we can ensure the wellbeing of ecosystems and rural populations and reduce emissions.

Growing food in a sustainable way means adopting practices that produce more with less in the same area of land and use natural resources wisely. It also means reducing food losses before the final product or retail stage through a number of initiatives including better harvesting, storage, packing, transport, infrastructure, market mechanisms, as well as institutional and legal frameworks.

This is why this year’s global message for World Food Day 2016 is:World Food Day Theme - Wendela SvdL

World Food Day Blog Post - Wendela SvdLAt the UN Sustainable Development summit in September 2015, 193 countries pledged to end hunger in the next 15 years. With unprecedented speed and breakthroughs such as the US and China’s ratification, the historic Paris Agreement on Climate Change is set to enter into force. This also entails the global goal for achieving zero hunger by 2030 – an ambitious goal and one that cannot be reached without addressing climate change.

Our collective task is now to turn commitments into action on the ground. Everyone has a role to play in mitigating the effects of climate change; even individuals such as yourself – staff and students at King’s – can make a difference. We shouldn’t be waiting around for countries to act but

start living by the change we want to see in the world.

Here are a number of easy actions that you can take to help improve the shocking reality of our consumption behaviour (source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).

Number 1 - Wendela SvdL

Did you know livestock contributes to nearly two thirds of agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and 78% of agricultural methane emissions? By being a conscientious and ethical consumer and changing simple day-to-day habits such as your meat consumption, little effort on your part can have an impact on a larger scale! Start by trying to eat one all-veggie meal (including pulses like lentils, beans, peas and chickpeas) instead of one meat meal a week. Way more natural resources are used to produce the meat on the supermarket shelves than plants or pulses, especially water! Millions of acres of rainforest are also slashed and burned to create grass pastures for livestock, so that we can eat a burger… Say no to your weekly steak and discover some new meals that might surprise you!

Number 2 - Wendela SvdL

Over 1/3 of food produced worldwide is lost or wasted. That equates to approximately 1.3 billion tonnes per year. All this food waste causes methane to be emitted during the rotting process, which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide! Whenever you have leftovers, don’t throw them away! Ask for a doggy bag and bring last night’s dinner for lunch into work/lectures. In supermarkets, pick the ugly fruit and vegetables that might otherwise go to waste, if you are using it that same day. Funny fruit and veg are often thrown away because they don’t meet cosmetic standards, but in fact, they taste the same! There are also some great ways to share your food with others who may be hungry. OLIO is an app that allows you to connect with people who may have a surplus of something and allows you to share your surplus with (other) hungry students.

Number 3 - Wendela SvdLDeforestation and forest degradation account for an estimated 10-11% of global GHG emissions. In the digital age that we live in, there is no need for King’s to be printing as much as it does. Collect scrap paper and use it for drawing and notes. At the start of the new academic year, shop for notebooks made out of recycled paper! When you buy paper – printer paper, paper towels, toilet paper, etc. – make sure they are forest-friendly and try to buy furniture that is made from sustainably sourced timber. Little things like that can reduce our environmental footprint and make a big difference.

For more tips on what you can do to improve food security in the future, check out the U.N.’s pages on World Food Day, 2016! Enjoy some meat-free meals and have a great weekend!

Wendela Schim van der Loeff, Sustainability Projects Assistant

Tunza Gorilla

This weeks guest blog comes courtesy of Richard Milburn (a PhD student in the War Studies department) who tell us about his new sustainable start-up, Tunza Gorilla.

Baby Gorillas

We’ve launched Tunza Gorilla, our ethical fashion brand with a mission to protect gorillas. Tunza means ‘care for’ in Swahili. We want to work with communities to protect gorillas in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

All our clothing is made using 100% Organic Cotton in a factory powered by renewable energy which pays their staff fair wages, and we’re donating 50% of our profits to gorilla conservation charities. We’re reinvesting the rest to help our company grow and achieve our vision of empowering consumers to use the clothes they wear to make a better world.

Gorillas are wonderful, peaceful animals, but are also one of the most endangered species on earth. We’re starting out focusing on the eastern gorilla sub species; there are only 900 mountain gorillas and 2-3,000 eastern lowland gorillas alive today, living in forests in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Surrounding them are thousands of people living in poverty who depend on the forest for their survival; these communities cut down trees for charcoal to cook food and boil water and lay traps to catch bushmeat. Unfortunately, the gorillas sometimes get caught in these traps and their habitat is under threat from deforestation. These communities do not mean any harm, they simply have no other choice because they are so poor.

So both the gorillas and these communities need our help.

Tunza Gorilla Provides the Solution

The idea for Tunza Gorilla came from seeing the plight of the gorillas and the surrounding communities and wanting to help. From studying the issues involved in more detail we realised we needed to find a way to create a large number of jobs for these communities that were connected with conservation. This would lift them out of poverty and help them see the value of gorillas and work to protect them.

At the same time we found there were virtually no products we could buy that protected gorillas. Yet there are thousands, if not millions, of people in the UK and worldwide who love gorillas and want to protect them.

That seemed like the perfect opportunity: to give people living around the gorillas jobs making products for consumers around the world who wanted to protect gorillas. We thought fashion was a great way to do this: we need to improve the ethics of the fashion industry anyway, we wear clothes everyday so they are a necessity and make a statement about who we are, and clothing manufacture is a labour-intensive industry.

Men's Tunza Gorilla Selection

Women's Tunza Gorilla Selection

As two students with little start-up capital but a massive passion to use business to drive positive social and environmental change, we have a simple mantra: Think Big. Start Small. Act Now.

Think Big: Our aim is to create a fashion brand that employs communities living around the gorillas to make our clothes. This lifts them out of poverty so they no longer need to set traps for bushmeat, which in turn protects gorillas – we call it being ‘eco-man friendly’. And it supports the drive to make ethical and sustainable fashion accessible and affordable to as many people as possible; our basic t-shirts cost just £12.

Start Small: Before we can start to employ these communities, however, we need to establish our brand and prove there is demand for our products.

Act Now: So we’re launching this crowdfunding campaign with our initial range of ethical and sustainable clothing and donating 50% of our profits to gorilla conservation charities. We’re then reinvesting the other 50% back into the company to help us grow.

Our crowdfunding campaign goes live on the Helping B platform – a crowdfunding site dedicated to supporting ethical business – on the 6th October at Supporters can pledge support from as little as £1 and help us to launch a company dedicated to making a better world.

See for more, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Sustainability Forum #2: Well-being and green space

Last Tuesday night we had our second sustainability forum which focused on Green space and well-being. We were joined by some wonderful speakers; Kate Sheldon from Trees for Cities, Gavin Atkins from the Ecominds project and Elle, Emily and Tobias from King’s own Urban Garden Project.

Held at Denmark Hill campus, the idea of the forum was to show that there is a benefit to everyone to spend time in green spaces, and how this can be a form of therapy, from helping with depression to relieving exam stress for students.

Our first speaker was Kate talking about Trees for Cities, a charity that started out as Trees for London but now reaches across 15 other UK cities and multiple international.  Each year they plant around 50,000-100,000 urban trees with the help of volunteers including members of the local community, schools, corporate groups and many more.

Kate described charity as a ‘natural health service’ giving people the opportunity to improve their health through planting trees.  She described how there is vast evidence around the value of high-quality green space for physical and mental health as well as an improvement of the surrounding environment.  Involving local communities in the project also makes the community more motivated to look after the trees and take an interest in their local area.trees

This video shows more about the Horticulture training base located next to Denmark Hill at Ruskin Park.  Over 350 hard-to-teach individual have been trained at this site over the last 12 years.

Another project that Trees for Cities are working on is edible playgrounds which aims to combat childhood obesity and hunger. It aims to improve the knowledge of healthy eating among the school children and gives them the tools to make better diet and lifestyle choices.

She ended her talk by mentioning how King’s and Trees for Cities could collaborate, including links between public health commissioners and clinical commissioning groups.  If you are interested in anything Kate and Trees for Cities has to offer you can contact her here or visit their website.

The next speaker was Gavin from Ecominds who spoke about ecotherapy – an intervention that improves mental and physical health by supporting people to be active outdoors. Currently 57 locally based Mind charities provide some form of ecotherapy, with 130 Ecominds project setup in 2009. This programmes includes activities such as care farming, green exercise, creative arts and much more. Gavin explained how each project was unique and focused around the individual needs of those in need of the therapy.mind

One key characetrics within some of the projects is the idea that participants are actively shaping nature, rather than passively experiencing it.  It is also key that natural environments can also take you ‘away from stressors’ which can help those that are currently experiencing mental health issues and those thought to be on the verge of developing them.

The Ecominds projects have shown positive outcomes on how the programme can help individuals.  7 out of 10 people experienced significant increase in wellbeing with more than 3 in 5 perceiving a positive impact on their overall health.  This is a huge achievement and shows the potential of ecotherapy as a form of treatment.  The case studies which Gavin also shared showed how findings like these in practice have saved the NHS/state up to £12,400 a year per person introduced in the schemes.

The major challenge now facing project such as Ecominds (apart from funding) is the perception that there needs to be hard evidence on the benefits of the schemes.  GPs often do not realise that these treatments are operating in their area and only 52% of GPs considered ecotherapy suitable for treating anxiety and depression.

The Ecominds project has now come to an end (due to funding) but Mind still continue to run numerous projects.  Three publications have been realised with research into ecotherapy.  To find out more about these or how to get involved in the project contact Gavin or visit the website.

Finally we had Elle, Emily and Tobias from the Urban Garden project from King’s speak about the work they are doing with regards to having working gardens on campus. Excitingly they now have a confirmed site at Guy’s Campus and one in process at Maugham Library.  The hope is that the gardens will start to be developed in the next few months.

The plan is for there to be a mix of seasonal and all year plants, as well as having a few edible plants which can be taken home by the volunteers that grow them.

The project aims to provide stress relief for staff and students as well as teaching them useful gardening skills.  The project with also to bright up the campus and make the area a more enjoyable place for students that sit outside in the Quad at Guys or outside the library.

Urban gardens plans to link with Trees for Cities to help in the design and planning stages of the project, with the idea of using upcycled furniture as part of the garden.

Overall this was a great event, giving us a good overview of why green spaces and active involvement with them is just as important for well-being as it is for the environment.

Gorilla Warfare: conservation in warzones

[Our second weekly guest blog comes courtesy of Richard Milburn, a PhD student in the Department of War Studies. The views presented do not necessarily reflect those of King’s Sustainability]


Eastern Lowland Gorillas in Kahusi-Biega National Park. Picture courtesy of the Pole Pole Foundation, a Congolese charity working to protect eastern lowland gorillas in the DRC and promote the sustainable development of surrounding communities (

Many of the world’s most iconic and endangered wildlife species are affected by war: tigers by ongoing insecurities in Assam, India; snow leopards by conflict in Afghanistan; and elephants and rhinos falling victim to conflicts all over sub-Saharan Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where wars of different intensities have raged for the last two decades and which remains insecure to this day, is home to the Mountain Gorillas, the rare Okapi gazelle, the Bonobo and the world’s second largest tropical rainforest after the Amazon. Even outside of warzones, the effects or organised criminal poaching for the illegal wildlife trade is causing large losses of wildlife and creating insecurity for the people living around those animals, a situation which is perhaps best exemplified by rhino poaching in South Africa.

While war can be very damaging for wildlife and the environment as a whole, it can also be a most effective form of conservation. Areas such as the Korean Demilitarised Zone, where humans fear to tread, have become de-facto nature preserves. In such places, peace is more of a danger to the environment than war, for when peace comes intensive resource extraction often follows both to rebuild nations in the aftermath of war and to exploit previously inaccessible resources.

In spite of the many links between conservation and war, it remains an often overlooked topic. To help address this, the Marjan Centre for the Study of Conflict and Conservation was established in the War Studies Department. In addition to publishing articles and offering an MA module on this topic, the centre holds regular talks delivered by conservation and conflict experts and experienced practioners, and each year presents the Marjan-Marsh Award, in partnership with the Marsh Christian Trust, to an exceptional conservationist working in a region of armed conflict.


War-damaged gorilla statue in Bukavu, DRC. Picture courtesy of the Pole Pole Foundation

Outside of the College, November 6th has also been set aside by the UN as the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict to highlight the damaging effects of war on the environment, such as: the use of the defoliant Agent Orange in Vietnam; the burning of oil wells in Iraq and Kuwait; and the ongoing impacts of war on the environment around the world, which are summarised in a very good recent article by the Guardian. Work is also underway to try to establish ‘ecocide’ as a war crime, and to generally improve the protection of the environment during times of war.

For those interested in conservation, protecting the environment during and after war is critically important. While arguments about the moral case for protecting the environment during war are often presented, these arguments regularly fall on deaf ears. Given the toll of human suffering as a result of war, arguing for the preservation of the environment can be difficult. For instance, around 5 million people have died as a result of war in the DRC over the last two decades, so dedicating resources to protecting gorillas or forests in that country might strike many people as a waste of resources. While the moral arguments for conservation are still valid, they are often not effective, and so more anthropocentric arguments need to be put forward, focusing on the importance of the environment as a threat to security and a tool for promoting post war recovery.

The loss and degradation of the environment undermines the natural resource base upon which many poor people in countries such as the DRC depend. Additionally, the sale of illegal ‘conflict-timber’ and ‘conflict-ivory’ may provide funds to actors in the conflict; Charles Taylor used conflict timber to finance the war in Sierra Leone and the illegal ivory trade has been linked to rebel and terrorist outfits such as the Lord’s Resistance Army and Al-Shabab. Further, since climate change has been identified as a ‘threat multiplier’ to international security, the preservation of large areas of forest in warzones, which act as carbon sinks, is vital.

While the exploitation and degradation of the environment may contribute towards armed conflict, it can also help to bring an end to war and support a resilient post war recovery.

‘Peace Parks’ are being established to support peacebuilding between countries previously at war. These are trans-border national parks where countries cooperate over their management and use that cooperation as a mechanism to help establish trust and create a platform for peacebuilding. Additionally, some ex-rebel soldiers are being given jobs as park rangers, helping to provide alternative jobs as part of the disarmament and reintegration process in the aftermath of war.


Sunset over Lake Kivu, DRC. Picture courtesy of the author and the Pole Pole Foundation

The environment also provides a host of economic benefits. Forests help to anchor soil and improve its fertility, and also provide an array of valuable ecosystem services to support agriculture. Additional revenue may be generated from carbon offset schemes, such as the UN’s REDD+ scheme, that can generate millions of dollars for countries that protect their forests. Tourism may also provide revenue and improve the image of a country emerging from conflict.

However, in spite of the many potential threats to security and the support for post war recovery provided by the environment, it is important to stress its limitations.

The environment is rarely, if ever, a direct cause of conflict. Environmental loss and degradation may place stress on weak institutions and increase ethnic, religious or other divisions within society, but it will not cause conflict by itself. Additionally, illegal trades in wildlife and timber are rarely the sole, or even main, source of finance for actors in conflict; resources such as diamonds, gold and coltan that are easier to extract and transport and which have a higher value will tend to be more readily exploited.

Similarly, with post war recovery, Peace Parks have been shown to offer some benefits for peacebuilding, but this has usually occurred at a low level and not translated into broad-reaching effects. The economic benefits are also often intangible and difficult to generate revenue from. Ecosystem service valuation remains fraught with difficulty and is often poorly understood by people on the ground. Tourism takes time to establish, and even a well-established industry can be destroyed by any renewed outbreak of conflict or a fear of insecurity.

Clearly, then, conservation is not the main issue in warzones. However, it is still an important component of the causes of war and the processes required to build peace. Effective conservation work can reduce the likelihood of conflict breaking out, prevent exploitation of the environment to fund conflict and help promote post war recovery. The key is to ensure that the value of the environment is realised and that it is seen as a core component of preventing war and promoting peace.

– Richard Milburn (

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