Joint UK and Iraqi team set to work on major new conservation initiative in Iraq

Thanks to a £300,000 Grant from Defra’s Darwin Initiative, a major new three year conservation programme is starting in Iraq. Focusing on the mountainous region of Kurdistan the project will involve experts from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) and BirdLife International (BirdLife), in partnership with Iraqi NGO Nature Iraq (NI).

The project will generate new data for conservation and resources for protected area management and environmental education. The team’s aim is to make serious progress in addressing the challenges of conservation resulting from nearly 30 years of scientific isolation.

“The biodiversity of Iraq is extremely vulnerable following years of unstable government, breakdown in traditional land management and recent rapid development”, explained Tony Miller, RBGE’s Centre for Middle Eastern Plants (CMEP) Director and UK project leader. “What’s more the country has limited capacity to deal with threats to the environment. At present the only internal organisation engaged in conservation work is Nature Iraq. Supported by BirdLife International, since 2005, it has adopted a Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) approach to identifying biodiverse-rich regions. The new funding will allow us to work with the two agencies towards conserving the country’s fragile environment”.

This is not the UK teams’ first involvement in Iraq. Both BirdLife and RBGE have been working with NI for several years, delivering training to Iraqi scientists. These activities have involved staff, students and personnel from all major Iraqi organisations with an interest in the environment, including the major universities and Ministries in both Iraq and the Kurdish Autonomous Region (KAR).

Natural Environment Minister Richard Benyon said: “Iraq has suffered many years of war and conflict, and protecting its wildlife has understandably been a low priority. Things are now changing, and with work already underway to tackle threats to the environment it is clear Iraq has stepped up its efforts to conserve its vulnerable wildlife.

‪“The Darwin Initiative is all about helping the world’s poorest countries protect their wildlife, and I hope that the money and expertise provided by the UK will allow them to focus on this once more.”‪

 “This project brings together the foremost British expertise in both Middle Eastern plants and birds to work in partnership with the Iraqi environmental NGO Nature Iraq”, added Sophie Neale, CMEP’s Head of Biodiversity Programmes and UK project manager. “It will involve extensive fieldwork in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq and will have a significant impact on conservation in the country. One legacy will be interactive identification guides to the biological diversity of Piramagroon (a Key Biodiversity Area), including photographic guides which can be downloaded to mobile phones. This technology has been recognised as a particularly appropriate, accessible and user friendly way to disseminate information in the Middle East. Nevertheless, this will be the first time it has been achieved for biodiversity information in Iraq”. 

Richard Porter, of BirdLife, commented: “Working with Nature Iraq for the past seven years has been inspiring and a great privilege. Their extensive wildlife surveys have produced a wealth of information and now there is a great opportunity to use this for an exciting education programme”. 

Welcoming news of the grant, Nadheer Abood, CEO of NI, concluded: "In Iraq, conservation of species and habitats has languished far behind the rest of the world due to decades of war and civil unrest. Nature Iraq has been active in trying to change this situation since 2004 through conservation research and field studies. Now, in a partnership with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and BirdLife International, we will work together to plan and implement specific conservation tools at a proposed protected area in northern Iraq. Once developed these tools will help us in our efforts to create and expand a protected area network within Iraq".

RBGE’s Building Capacity For In-situ Conservation in Iraq project is one of 33 to receive a total £8.5 million UK Government funding under Defra’s Darwin Initiative. Since its launch in 1992, the Darwin Initiative has committed £88 million to 762 projects in over 150 countries.

For interviews, images or further information contact Shauna Hay on 0131 248 2900 or Sandra Donnelly on 0131 248 1037.


Details of the 33 new Darwin Initiative projects and previous projects can be found at

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh ( and its Centre for Middle Eastern Plants ( has a long-standing interest in the flora and vegetation of the Middle East; institutional experience in the region and expertise in botany, education and conservation makes the RBGE uniquely positioned to deliver the innovative and effective capacity building required to meet the objectives of this project. Regionally Anthony Miller, under the auspices of the Arabian Plant Specialist Group has co-ordinated the IPA and red listing programmes aimed at meeting criteria 1 of the GSPC for the Arabian Peninsula. Other RBGE staff are involved in developing online learning courses in the Middle East and mobile phone technology which will be used in this project. RBGE has been involved through CMEP in delivering training to NI staff and others in Kurdistan over the last three years.

Nature Iraq ( is an Iraqi non-governmental organisation registered in Iraq. It was formed in 2004 and maintains offices in Sulaimani (Kurdistan, Northern Iraq), Chibiash (southern Iraq), and Baghdad. It is accredited to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and is Iraq’s first and only affiliate to BirdLife International. It has extensive background in capacity building and advisory support to Iraqi decision-makers; field research and surveys on biodiversity and water quality, water resource management planning, and a variety of sustainable development initiatives. It works closely with the Ministry of Environment and other government agencies to protect and restore Iraq’s diverse environmental and cultural resources.

BirdLife International ( is a global Partnership of conservation organisations that strives to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources. It is the world's largest partnership of conservation organisations, with partners in over 100 countries and territories worldwide. In the Middle East (regional office in Amman, Jordan) it has partners or affiliates in Bahrain, Cyprus, Iraq, Jordan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, UAE and Yemen. The publication Important Bird Areas in the Middle East is now being revised and published as country editions by several Middle East Partners.  Richard Porter is an advisor to BirdLife International's Middle East programme as well as bird conservation adviser to Nature Iraq. He has over 45 years experience working on bird conservation and training projects.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a charity (registration number SC007983)