The ‘Conservation Hierarchy’ : Supporting Nature

Researchers at the University of Oxford and their partners have launched a new approach called the “Conservation Hierarchy” to support governments, businesses, individuals, communities and local authorities in their efforts to tackle the loss of nature in a coordinated way.

Empowering everyone – individuals, organisations and governments – to build a world in which nature and people can thrive together

Oxford University will be using its own operations as a case study for how large, complex organisations can reduce their biodiversity impact using the Conservation Hierarchy.


The new hub, named the Oxford Partnership for Operationalising the Conservation Hierarchy (OxPOCH), will be the first to use the framework in practice, with a focus on two key areas – reducing the environmental impact of our food, and ensuring that new developments have ‘Biodiversity Net Gain’ (leaving nature in a better state than it would have been if the development hadn’t been implemented).

The Conservation Hierarchy – also known as 4Steps4TheEarth – requires organisations to go through four planning stages with respect to an overarching goal (such as restoring nature):

  1. Refrain – refrain from actions that harm nature
  2. Reduce – reduce harmful actions as far as possible
  3. Restore – restore nature that has been harmed
  4. Renew – renew nature through new actions that make a real difference

OxPOCH is focussing one part of its work on food sustainability, in response to recent research led by Oxford, which has shown the need for wide-ranging dietary changes in the future.

Joseph Poore, of the Oxford Martin Programme on Food Sustainability Analytics, last year showed one of the biggest impacts an individual can have on their carbon footprint is to reduce their meat intake. Working with Joseph Poore, the Oxford Martin School’s Livestock Environment and Agriculture Programme and the Department of Primary Health Care Sciences, OxPOCH will investigate how, through different ‘nudge’ techniques, canteens and college halls can change the choices staff and students make in order to eat more sustainably.

Its researchers are working with partners across NGOs and businesses to deliver scientific data on food sustainability in a way that enables producers, supply chains, retailers, and consumers to track their environmental impact, and act to reduce it.

The second theme the researchers will tackle is supporting the University and its colleges to manage its estates with biodiversity in mind, through demonstration projects and new guidance.

Henry Grub, OxPOCH’s coordinator and lead researcher, said:

‘The whole estate associated with Oxford goes far beyond the city walls. We want to investigate how biodiversity can be preserved and enhanced across this space, while maximising the estate’s practical usage.’

Binscarth woods autumn trees Bell


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