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Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation partner with University of Exeter in £2.3 million programme to support environmental leadership in Africa

A six-year programme to research land management and ecosystem resilience in Africa was initiated in October 2021 thanks to philanthropic support from the Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation.

Published 12th October 2021

The new ‘Oppenheimer Generations Research Programme in African Landscape Systems’ has been made possible by a £1 million contribution from Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation, a £400,000 personal contribution from Exeter’s Chair of Council and alumna, Sarah Turvill and support by the University of Exeter.

This programme will be led by the University’s Global Systems Institute and involve an extensive network of partners across the continent, including the University of Witwatersrand’s Global Change Institute, Conservation South Africa, and The International Small Group and Tree Planting Program.

The programme will deliver a step-change in environmental leadership and land management across Africa. The scope of the programme will result in sustained long-term benefit to landscape understanding and management against a background of rapid environmental change. It will also give Exeter researchers the opportunity to work closely with leading environmental organisations in Africa.

The programme will support at least 34 years’ worth of postgraduate training across 20 studentships, the majority of which will benefit African students. It will also create a new post for an ‘Oppenheimer Research Fellow in African Landscape Systems’ at Exeter to lead a programme of foundational and applied scientific research that links international expertise with local partners across the continent.

It is designed to provide a strong and credible voice for African communities, land managers and researchers in the global climate and ecological crisis, equip these stakeholders to understand, mitigate and adapt to environmental change, and develop pathways to resilient natural and human systems in African landscapes.

Polly Carr, CEO  Custodian at Oppenheimer Generations, said: “We are delighted to be able to work with the University of Exeter on this African Landscape Systems programme. We have long been committed to research and conservation efforts in Africa, including restoring former farming land to protected reserves, and this project helps us to have an even wider positive impact. We are looking forward to building a lasting partnership in environmental leadership with Exeter.”

Dr Duncan MacFadyen, Head of Research at Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation said: “The partnership between the Global Systems Institute and Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation is hugely exciting as it aims to create real impact across the African continent. Furthermore, we hope to better understand the unique and complex relationships between man and the environment, as well as the self-healing rates of different landscapes across the continent. Through investigating socio-environmental resilience, the development of scientific tools, modelling environmental data, rangeland and ecosystem services, we hope to guide an improved understanding of the spatial variation in landscapes. The added opportunity to work with partners across Africa with complementary programmes and networks is extremely exciting.”

Dr Andrew Cunliffe from the Global Systems Institute is the lead researcher on the project. He said: “We are very excited to embark on this new programme to improve the accessibility and value of environmental data and knowledge, enabling better understanding of resilience in ecosystem services provided by African landscapes. These projects will help inform targeted interventions that enhance the resilience of human activities in these rapidly changing settings considering ongoing climate and land-use change. We are engaging with local communities and researchers to co-create research objectives and inform sustainable best practice.”

Professor Lisa Roberts, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Exeter, said: “This is an exciting partnership that will help to empower and mentor the next generation of environmental land managers and researchers, and raise the profile of environmental research in South Africa. We are very thankful for Oppenheimer Generations’ collaborative support that will enable local scholars to complete their research and help protect landscapes for future generations.”

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