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Rio Tinto partnership

Visiting Namibia's uranium mines
Written by: David Marsh
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Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and Rio Tinto worked successfully in partnership for 13 years from 2003 to 2016. The purpose of our collaboration was to integrate best practice management of biodiversity into Rio Tinto’s decision-making processes. For well over a decade, this work continually pushed the boundaries of mining best practice through pioneering initiatives for maintaining biodiversity values in their areas of operation.

FFI’s long-term partnership with Rio Tinto ended in 2016, when it became apparent that achieving a Net Positive Impact (NPI) on biodiversity was no longer a priority for the company. Since FFI fervently believes that NPI (colloquially no net loss or net gain) is an important objective towards which our corporate partners should strive, the decision was made to focus our efforts on working with new and existing partners who are demonstrably committed to achieving this goal.

History of the partnership

Together, FFI and Rio Tinto sought to develop new approaches to biodiversity conservation within the corporate sector. These approaches worked across disciplines (including ecology, sustainable livelihoods and extractive industry) to minimise the ecological impacts of operational activities.

A gemsbok and zebra in Namibia, one of the countries in which Rio Tinto works. Credit: Pippa Howard/FFI.

A gemsbok and zebra in Namibia, one of the countries in which Rio Tinto works. Credit: Pippa Howard/FFI.

The partnership helped Rio Tinto identify and manage environmental risks and recognise conservation issues during exploration and project operations. Our work also aimed to influence the mining sector and governments to conserve biodiversity and improve the livelihoods of communities in regions where extraction takes place.


During our long-term partnership, FFI worked with Rio Tinto to:

  • Provide site-specific recommendations to avoid, minimise, rehabilitate and offset (PDF download) environmental impacts in Simandou (Guinea), Oyu Tolgoi (Mongolia) and the Fort-Dauphin region of south-eastern Madagascar
  • Assist Rio Tinto in reaching its goal of achieving net positive impact (PDF download) on biodiversity
  • Carry out biodiversity action plans at numerous Rio Tinto mines including Rössing Uranium (Namibia) and Richard’s Bay Minerals (South Africa)
  • Engage the mining sector and governments in improving biodiversity conservation and livelihoods. Rio Tinto supported FFI’s engagement with the International Council on Mining and Metals, a key forum for effecting change in the extractive sector
Demoiselle cranes in Mongolia. Credit: Pippa Howard/FFI.

Demoiselle cranes in Mongolia. Credit: Pippa Howard/FFI.

The partnership was also influential in our wider involvement in landscape-level planning in Namibia’s uranium-rich Erongo Province, home to Rio Tinto’s Rössing Uranium mine. FFI continues to work with the Ministry of Mining and Environment to minimise the impacts of the country’s uranium mining.

Ongoing efforts

FFI’s biodiversity and geographic information systems (GIS) experts investigated the challenges and potential solutions of offsetting environmental damage in developing countries using the case study of Namibia’s Central Namib Desert. Solutions were designed to incorporate important issues such as landscape connectivity, socio-economic constraints, land tenure, extractive industry footprints and community conservation projects.

A giraffe and elephant share a water hole in Namibia. Credit: Pippa Howard/FFI.

A giraffe and elephant share a water hole in Namibia. Credit: Pippa Howard/FFI.

Throughout the duration of our partnership, FFI provided Rio Tinto with the tools to manage risks related to biodiversity globally. We also supported capacity building and stakeholder engagement for Rio Tinto’s Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia. This aimed to help build the local environmental team’s understanding of ecosystem services issues in the South Gobi Desert and how best to manage them.

FFI provided technical advice to improve Rio Tinto’s operations and challenge the mining sector and governments more broadly to have a positive impact on ecosystems and livelihoods.

Written by
David Marsh

David Marsh was the Rio Tinto Programme Manager within Fauna & Flora International’s Mining & Energy Programme. David has degrees in Marine Biology, International Business and Environmental Management from the University of Queensland, Australia. He has six years of experience in environmental impact assessment, ecological monitoring, biodiversity risk assessment, biodiversity conservation and project management. He is passionate about wildlife and has volunteered on marine turtle monitoring projects in Costa Rica and carnivore conservation projects in Southern Africa.

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