This research was conducted by bird food providers Ark Wildlife. Please credit the research by linking back to the webpage if using data.
University campuses take up large tracts of land in the UK. Keele University, for example, is the UK’s largest campus university at 625 acres, making it bigger than Monaco. Institutions like these are home to vast amounts of wildlife.
But far beyond their physical dimensions, universities are an influential part of their wider communities, educating and setting standards for the next generation of adults. They can also take a moral lead, holding others to account for their wildlife conservation practices.
Which universities are taking action to protect wildlife on their campus?
To identify the UK’s most wildlife-friendly universities, we sent a freedom of information request to 130 institutions. We asked:
- Do you have any policies for protecting wildlife on your university campus and/or land? If so, please state them.
- Do you have any partnerships with or provide funding for any local wildlife causes? If so, please state how much funding you provide to which causes.
- Are there active biodiversity or wildlife activities on offer at your university (excluding academic courses)? If so, please provide details.
- Has your university conducted a wildlife survey between January 2021 and November 2022?
Some 122 of the universities responded to our request, allowing us to create five distinct tiers.
Platinum tier: the universities doing the most for wildlife
With the results in, it’s clear that a significant proportion of UK universities can be classed as wildlife-friendly! Here are the key findings:
- Almost a third (42 from 122) of the universities who responded scored top marks, supporting wildlife with a number of active measures.
- With six universities, the South-east region has the highest number of institutions in this category, including the Open University campus in Milton Keynes.
- The South-east is closely followed by London and Scotland, each with five universities.
- Thirteen of these 41 universities are in the Russell Group, meaning just over half the group are among the UK’s most wildlife-friendly universities.
If we look at the actions taken by these universities, their initiatives can be replicated at any UK university. For instance, the University of Edinburgh has a hedgehog-friendly campus, works alongside the Edinburgh Living Landscape partnership and supports ‘bioblitzes’ to document the species in the area.
Another Russell Group university, Queen's University Belfast has worked with The Conservation Volunteers to create a tree nursery and allotment. Its students have also conducted wildlife surveys, as well as planting trees and hedgerows.
Similarly, Liverpool John Moores has created 10 wildlife gardens to support biodiversity. And the University of Surrey has bat boxes and insect hotels on campus, in addition to its partnerships with the Wildlife Trust, WWE and Natural England.
Ark Wildlife director Sean McMenemy says:
“It’s clear that some universities are taking wildlife conservation extremely seriously, and it’s great to see. They’re really in tune with the local environment, providing invaluable habitats to animals in the area.
“Importantly, the most wildlife-friendly universities are actively encouraging students to become involved. This will breed greater awareness of conservation methods and just how vital wildlife is to the UK. Hopefully, it’ll also instil a lifelong love of animals and the environment in their graduates.”
Gold tier: universities active in wildlife protection
Almost a quarter (27 from 122) of universities are in this category. They don’t make the top tier since they’re missing one of the criteria for platinum tier universities.
Thirteen of the 27 universities have not conducted a recent wildlife survey. Undertaking regular wildlife surveys is the only way to find out if any further conservation work is needed.
Also, 11 of the 27 universities do not have a partnership with or provide funding to a local wildlife cause.
However, all 27 offer biodiversity or wildlife activities and all but two universities have wildlife protection policies in place.
Silver tier: universities somewhat active in wildlife protection
Some 23 of the 122 universities we surveyed met two of the four measures for wildlife support. At these institutions, there are steps being taken, but there’s also plenty of room for improvement.
For example, just three of them are partnering with or supplying funding for local wildlife causes. And a little under a quarter (22%) have undertaken a recent wildlife survey.
Three universities in this tier have no wildlife protection policies: Teesside University, the University of Cumbria, and Sheffield Hallam University. Such policies are a good litmus test of whether an institution has engrained wildlife-friendly actions into their culture. While the universities in this tier are certainly doing their bit, a commitment to adopting wildlife protection policies would be a further step forward.
Bronze tier: universities partially active in wildlife protection
The 12 universities in this tier are implementing just one initiative from the four we asked them about.
Five have policies to protect wildlife in place and three have made efforts to discover conservation issues with a wildlife survey in the last two years.
Yet, only two universities support local wildlife causes — University of Bradford and Liverpool Hope University. And only Brunel University and St George’s University of London offer their students biodiversity or wildlife activities.
Requires improvement: universities not taking action to protect wildlife
Unfortunately, a little under a sixth (18 of the 122) of the universities are not taking any of the measures outlined to help wildlife.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given their urban locations, 65% of these universities are in London. Yet, universities can still play a crucial role in supporting wildlife, particularly when urban development continues to encroach upon natural areas.
Sean McMenemy says:
“When you look around London, it’s dominated by manmade structures, but it doesn’t take vast green spaces to help wildlife. Animals are remarkably resilient, finding homes and food in the most unexpected of places. Introducing insect hotels, wildlife gardens or even just a few trees can provide vital habitats for all kinds of animals.
“The first step is often conducting a wildlife survey. Taking stock of animal species and numbers on a campus will tell universities what kinds of wildlife they’re hosting. Then they can take effective actions to help those animals, whether it’s supporting a London-based wildlife charity or making the campus more welcoming to wildlife.”
The overall picture
The majority (84%) of universities who responded to our questions are taking at least one active step to support wildlife on their campus.
Just over half (63 from 122) of the universities are partnering with or supporting a local wildlife cause. A similar number of universities (64) have undertaken a wildlife survey since January 2021, showing that they’re committed to keeping track of the wildlife on their campuses.
The most commonly missed measure is offering biodiversity or wildlife activities to students, which almost a third (34 from 122) of universities fail to do. Similarly, 30 from 122 universities have no policies for protecting wildlife in place, making animals on campus more vulnerable.
Several regions of the UK can boast that all of their universities have at least one wildlife-friendly initiative in place. They are:
- The East
- The North-east
- Northern Ireland
- The South-east
- Yorkshire & the Humber
By contrast, only around half (55%) of the universities in London are taking any action at all to help wildlife.
Naturally, universities play a key role in driving student initiatives to support wildlife. But they also heavily influence the communities around them – and their conservation efforts – by showing moral leadership.
Of course, having a campus full of green spaces and sports fields often means universities become wildlife habitats by default. Even those that don’t actively encourage wildlife have a responsibility to care for the animals and ecosystems they host.
All told, universities have a huge role to play in wildlife protection efforts in their local area. Here at Ark Wildlife, we call on all educational institutions to step up and support the UK’s wonderful wildlife!
Note: If respondents didn’t provide an answer to a question we didn’t give them a score for that question. Universities that didn’t respond in time to the FOI request are excluded from the results.