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Many protected areas do not actually benefit wildlife, study says

The public are regularly told by conservation charities that the best way to safeguard wildlife is by designating land as a 'protected area'. Indeed, there are well funded international campaigns focused solely on encouraging governments to designate set quotas of land as protected.

For many people, the mere labelling of a piece of land as 'protected' is seen as the end goal and some sort of achievement in itself. In reality the term is meaningless if it is not accompanied by the appropriate management and support to protect the wildlife living there.

As was widely reported last week, the largest ever study of protected areas - places "set aside" ostensibly for nature - has revealed that most do not actively benefit wildlife.

Scientists examined the impact of 1,500 protected areas in 68 countries, focusing their analysis on wetlands and waterbirds.They found that, in terms of how wildlife fared, success varied hugely around the world and depended a great deal on how an area was managed.

Its authors say that habitats need to be managed effectively in ways that provide a boost for nature."There need to be rules in place and restoration," said lead researcher Dr Hannah Wauchope, from the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at University of Exeter.

"We can't just draw a line around an area and say, 'you can't build a car park here'."

Dr Wauchope explained that the study used population trends of wetland birds as a measure of the success of a protected area, which can be anything from an area of outstanding natural beauty to a carefully managed nature reserve.

As co-author of the report, Prof Julia Jones, from Bangor University, stressed "drawing lines on a map does nothing for nature". She said: "An obsession with reaching a certain area-based target - such as 30% by 2030 - without a focus on improving the condition of existing protected areas will achieve little," she added.

Whilst wildlife numbers continue to decline across the UK, the exception to this trend is of course on managed grouse moors as direct consequence of the management and support that takes place. Governments and conservation charities should recognise these successes to build outcome based policies, rather than continue to focus efforts on arbitrary targets.


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