The DESIRE project brings together 28 research institutes, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and policy-makers from around the world in order to come up with alternative and integrated conservation strategies that will prevent and reduce widespread degradation of fragile arid and semi-arid ecosystems. The team of researchers has identified 18 hotspots from southern Europe to Australia, Chile and the United States of America, covering a wide range of problems, from soil erosion by wind or water, to salinisation and droughts or flash floods. These hotspots are being used as a global laboratory where researchers can apply both tried-and-tested conservation and remediation techniques, and experiment with innovative approaches to combat desertification. Working closely with local stakeholders, the scientists are studying the methods and techniques used to prevent land degradation and combining them with new scientific insights. Ultimately, the DESIRE project should lead to practical guidelines for responsible land use.