Nature-based solutions: deep dive

Why we're giving half a million pounds to grassroots conservation leaders with nature-based solutions.


Nature-based solutions are ways to protect, restore and manage ecosystems that can combat climate change while simultaneously improving biodiversity and human wellbeing. By investing in threatened ecosystems now we will secure significant, sustained benefits for the climate, nature, and us.

In 2020, for the first time, WFN announced half a million pounds of funding to address the climate and biodiversity crises hand-in-hand, for nature-based solutions that are rooted in communities across the Global South. We are supporting the conservation of habitats that not only provide a vital carbon sink and ecosystem services, but also an irreplaceable home for wildlife and a sustainable future for people.


2020 had been coined the ‘super year’ for the natural world. The UN Environment Programme stated:

“The world is facing an unprecedented environmental crisis with huge numbers of species on the brink of extinction and global temperatures continuing to rise.”

Our diaries were dominated by key international meetings that have since been postponed. The Convention on Biological Diversity was planned for October, when the world would come together to reset 20 global Aichi Biodiversity Targets for conservation and, crucially, work out how to deliver on them. One month later, the UN Climate Change Conference was to take place in Glasgow.

COVID-19 has brought another unprecedented crisis to bear on the planet, but at WFN we still believe that this is the time to act: we are losing animals and plants at a rate 1,000 times faster than ever before, with one million species on the verge of extinction, while 2019 concluded a record-breaking decade of rising temperatures and sea levels.

As we emerge from our virus-induced lockdown, we have an opportunity to make the economic recovery a green one. When the World Economic Forum published its 2019 Global Risks Report it placed the environment as the primary risk to our economy. Just a few months later the economy faces collapse because of the wildlife trade, with Coronavirus the latest in a string of zoonatic diseases transferred to humans through the sale and consumption of animals as food, medicine or pets.

The environment minister Zac Goldsmith sent a letter to the Financial Times stating:

“The world urgently needs a new commitment to nature as we recover from Covid-19. Nature should be at the heart of the recovery we seek.”

In recent months there has also been a groundswell of public awareness of these issues, spearheaded by global movements such as Extinction Rebellion and climate strikes.

This underpins nature-based solutions with unprecedented levels of scientific evidence, cross-sector support and public engagement. The United Nations General Assembly has named 2021–2030 as the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. And at WFN we want to use this momentum to support grassroots action that will have a global impact.


WFN is supporting innovative conservation projects that involve communities in combating climate change and biodiversity loss. These projects might be focussed on forests, wetlands, peatlands, mangroves, seagrasses or coral reefs. Below are examples of two of these habitats, the wildlife and the people relying on them, supported by previous Whitley Award-winning projects:


Critically Endangered Orangutans protected by Panut

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has found that forests are home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity as well as absorbing one third of the CO2 released from burning fossil fuels every year. Globally, 1.6 billion people – that’s nearly 25% of the world’s population – also rely on them for their livelihoods.

Nature-based solutions could include projects like Panut Hadisiswoyo’s in Sumatra, Indonesia – winner of a 2015 Whitley Award and 2017 Continuation Funding. Panut is saving the Leuser Ecosystem – the last place in the world where orangutan, rhino, elephant and tiger still co-exist. Four million people also rely on this tropical lowland rainforest and he is encouraging them to become its guardians; they are replanting trees to restore wildlife habitat and developing sustainable livelihoods in agroforestry and organic farming, using methods that boost productivity and reduce the need to clear forest.


Jean replants mangrove seedlings with local people

‘Blue carbon’ is the carbon stored in coastal and marine ecosystems. Mangroves, as well as tidal marshes and seagrass meadows, sequester and store more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests. They are also crucial in helping people to adapt to climate change; 40% of the world’s population lives within 100km of the coast, and mangroves provide natural flood protection that’s increasingly vital as sea levels rise and storms hit more frequently.

Nature-based solutions might take the form of projects like Jean Wiener’s in Haiti, for which he won a Whitley Gold Award in 2014 and Continuation Funding just last year. 80% of Haitians live in poverty so Jean has set up new, sustainable livelihoods that reduce mangrove cutting and over-fishing. He has established Haiti’s first six Marine Managed Areas and inspired people to regrow mangroves in 100,000 pieces of plastic waste collected from the ocean.


Past Whitley Award winners can apply for our nature-based solutions grants as part of the Continuation Funding programme. The grants are worth up to £100,000 over two years. To find out more about applying, click here.

We are completely reliant on donations from individuals, trusts, foundations and corporations to support the work of these conservation heroes. To find out more about donating, click here or email WFN’s Head of Partnerships, Georgie White at [email protected].