9 February 2015

World’s governments are failing on protected areas for nature


A new study has found that while governments are making progress in expanding Protected Area networks, these are failing to provide adequate coverage for nature.

In 2010, the world’s governments committed to conserving 17% of land and 10% of sea by 2020, particularly those places of particular importance for nature. With five years to go to achieve this target, new research shows that the current Protected Areas system is still failing to cover all key sites, species and ecosystems.

The study was led by BirdLife International with 40 authors from 26 institutions including the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen.

“We carried out the most comprehensive analysis to date of how well Protected Areas cover nature. We analysed nearly 12,000 important sites, over 1,000 terrestrial and marine ecological regions and over 25,000 species of animals and plants, including the first assessment for marine species”, said Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife International’s Head of Science and lead author of the paper.

Sanje Falls. Udzungwa Mountains National Park, Tanzania

Sanje Falls. Udzungwa Mountains National Park, Tanzania. photo by: Rasmus Gren Havmøller. download press photo

“The analysis also revealed that only one-fifth of key sites for nature are completely covered by protected areas, with one third lacking any protection”.

Furthermore, less than half of mammals, amphibians, mangroves and various marine groups have a sufficient proportion of their distributions covered by the current Protected Area network to be adequately conserved. Threatened species in these groups, plus birds and corals, are even less well-covered.

Achieving adequate coverage of nature to meet globally adopted targets would require twice the area of land as found in the current global Protected Area network. “Challengingly, the largest increases in land needing to be set aside for conservation are located in poorer countries of the world, which makes considerations of the benefits from conservation especially relevant”, added co-author Dr Neil Burgess, Professor at the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate and Head of Science at the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

"Protected areas are defined individually from country to country and include as diverse areas as Yellowstone National Park and the Arlington National Cemetary in the U.S. We need to take a serious look at how we manage the existing areas and where new sites are chosen for conservation purpose, to ensure that the areas with high biological importance are included to fight the ongoing loss of biodiversity", says co-author Jonas Geldmann from the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate.

 “This study should be a wake-up call to governments and other conservationists across the world. Meeting the target will require accelerated recognition and designation of effective conservation areas that are much better targeted towards important sites for nature”, concluded Butchart.

The study is published as Butchart et al. (2015) Shortfalls and solutions for meeting national and global conservation area targets, Conservation Letters


Postdoc Jonas Geldmann
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