Study: Proportion of protected areas covering conservation priorities on land has declined annually since 1950
The world's governments have committed to increasing the coverage of protected areas by 2020 in order to address rapid rates of environmental destruction. However, a new study shows that only half of the most important sites for wildlife have been fully protected. These findings highlight the urgent need for improved targeting of new and expanded protected areas in order to best protect the planet's wildlife.
Cambridge, UK — Protected areas like national parks and
community-managed nature reserves are a cornerstone of conservation efforts and
now cover nearly 13 percent of the world's land surface. In 2010, the world's
governments meeting in Nagoya, Japan committed to expanding this to 17 percent
by 2020, with an emphasis on areas of particular importance for nature.
New research by over 40 scientists from almost 30 institutions, led by
BirdLife International, has found that only half of these important areas are
currently protected. The researchers discovered this trend by analysing the
overlap between protected areas and two worldwide networks of important sites
for wildlife: Important Bird Areas, which comprise more than 10,000 globally
significant sites for conserving birds, and Alliance for Zero Extinction sites,
which include 600 sites holding the last remaining population of highly
threatened vertebrates and plants.
"Sockingly, half of the most important sites for nature conservation have not
yet been protected", said Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife's Global Research and
Indicators Coordinator. "And only one-third to one-fifth of sites are completely
protected — the remainder are only partially covered by protected areas. While
coverage of important sites by protected areas has increased over time, the
proportion of area covering important sites, as opposed to less important land
for conservation, has declined annually since 1950."
"This is despite the fact that we found evidence that protection of important
sites may slow the rate at which species are driven towards extinction: by 50
percent for birds with protection of at least half of the Important Bird Areas
at which they occur, and by 30 percent for birds, mammals and amphibians
restricted to protected areas compared with those restricted to unprotected or
partially protected sites. By using the IUCN Red List Index to measure changes
in the status of species, and linking this to the degree of protection for
important conservation sites, we found good evidence that protected areas may
play an important role in slowing the loss of biodiversity."
With governments having committed to halt the extinction of threatened
species and to expand protected areas in both number and extent, they could
achieve both of these aims and benefit local communities by focusing new
protected areas on the networks of sites considered to be the most important
places for wildlife. For example, establishment of a protected area on the Liben
Plain in Ethiopia would help to safeguard the future of the Critically
Endangered Liben Lark, which is found nowhere else. Similarly, the designation
of a proposed biosphere reserve in the Massif de la Hotte in Haiti would protect
15 highly threatened frog species that are restricted to just this single site.
In both cases, appropriate management would ensure that local communities also
benefit from enhanced protection of these sites.
There are probably several reasons why recently designated protected areas
have tended not to protect the most biologically important areas. For example,
some sites may be chosen for their remoteness and lower suitability for
agriculture, rather than because they can best mitigate the rapid and extensive
land-use change that threatens most species. Other protected areas may have been
targeted primarily at locations for recreation, tourism, hunting, scenery or
In addition to designating a comprehensive network of protected areas,
governments need to ensure that these reserves are adequately managed. The team
estimated that this would cost roughly US$23 billion per year: more than four
times the current expenditure. However, in countries with low or moderately low
incomes, increased management funding would require less than one-tenth of this
sum, just double what is currently spent.
"Such sums may seem large, but they are tiny by comparison to the value of
the benefits that people obtain from biodiversity. These 'ecosystem services',
such as pollination of crops, water purification and climate regulation, have
been estimated to be worth trillions of dollars each year", said Butchart.
Important Bird Areas and Alliance for Zero Extinction sites represent
existing, systematically identified global networks of significant sites for
nature conservation. Adequately protecting and managing them would help to
prevent extinctions, safeguard the benefits that people derive from these sites,
and contribute towards countries meeting their international commitments on
Dr. Frank Larsen, scientist with Conservation International who
contributed to the study, said: "Since world leaders have agreed to
increase the current protected areas from 13 percent to 17 percent of Earth's
land by 2020, those four percentage points really needs to be focused on the
unprotected sites that are the most important for nature. With the global
population projected to skyrocket over the next 30 years, so will our demand for
natural resources. Protecting those remaining pockets of nature will be crucial
if we want to have food, water and a host of other vital benefits that that will
allow us to survive and prosper."
"Some countries are already leading the way, with governments using Important
Bird Area and Alliance for Zero Extinction site inventories to inform
designation of protected areas, for example in Madagascar, Nicaragua, the
Philippines, and in the European Union. We encourage other governments to follow
these examples as they expand their protected area networks, thereby maximising
the effectiveness of nature protection", concluded Butchart.
Available content for media (***Please Provide Image
DOWNLOAD: Photos available for media use
Journal article: Butchart, SHM et al. (2010) Protecting Important
Sites for Biodiversity Contributes to Meeting Global Conservation Targets. PLoS
For more information or interviews,
+1 703 341-2471
Note to editors:
BirdLife International is a global alliance of conservation organisations
working in more than 115 countries and territories that, together, to promote
sustainable living as a means to conserve biodiversity.
Important Bird Areas
(IBAs) are key sites for avian conservation, identified nationally, using
globally standardised criteria, usually involving multiple stakeholders. They
are delimited so that they are or can be managed for conservation, and do one
(or more) of three things:
- Hold significant numbers of one or more globally threatened bird
- Are one of a set of sites that together hold a suite of restricted-range
species or biome-restricted bird species;
- Have exceptionally large numbers of migratory or congregatory bird species.
Read more information on IBAs
Find factsheets on individual IBAs.
- The study analysed 10,993 IBAs in 218 countries, and found that 28 percent
are completely covered by protected areas, 23 percent are partially protected
and 49 percent are wholly unprotected.
The Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) is a
partnership of 75 non-governmental biodiversity conservation organizations
working together to prevent species extinctions. AZE sites are locations
supporting at least 95 percent of the global population of at least one
Endangered or Critically Endangered species, as listed on the IUCN Red List. Like IBAs, they have a
definable boundary within which the character of habitats, biological
communities, and/or management issues have more in common with each other than
they do with those in adjacent areas. AZE sites have been identified globally
for all mammals, birds, amphibians, selected reptile groups, conifers and
corals. Learn more about AZE species and sites. The
study analyzed 588 AZE sites that hold the last remaining populations of 919
highly threatened species, and found that 22 percent are completely covered by
protected areas, 27 percent are partially protected and 51 percent are
Protected Areas are places established and managed for long-term conservation
of nature, ranging from government-designated protected areas to
community-managed reserves. Over 150,000 protected areas have been designated to
date, covering 12.9 percent of the earth's terrestrial surface outside
Antarctica. Information on protected areas is managed in the World Database on
Protected Areas, a joint project of the United Nations Environment Programme
(UNEP) and IUCN, maintained at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre
working with the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, governments and
collaborating non-governmental organisations.
Governments have made commitments to address biodiversity loss through the Convention on
Biological Diversity. At the Tenth Conference of the Parties in Nagoya,
Japan, in October 2010, the 193 Parties agreed a Strategic Plan which included
20 targets. These included Target 11 "By 2020, at least 17 per cent of
terrestrial and inland water areas, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas,
especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem
services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically
representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective
area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and
seascapes" and Target 12 "By 2020 the extinction of known threatened species has
been prevented and their conservation status, particularly of those most in
decline, has been improved and sustained".
About Conservation International (CI) — Building upon a
strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers
societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global
biodiversity, for the long term well-being of people. Founded in 1987 and
marking its 25th anniversary in 2012, CI has headquarters in the Washington DC
area, and 900 employees working in nearly 30 countries on four continents, plus
1,000+ partners around the world. For more information, please visit at www.conservation.org , or on Facebook or Twitter.