Environment Magazine

Protected Areas Work, but Only When You Put in the Effort

Posted on the 14 November 2012 by Bradshaw

Protected areas work, but only when you put in the effortApologies for the delay in getting this latest post out. If you read my last one, you’ll know that I’ve been in the United Kingdom for the last week. I’m writing this entry in the train down from York to Heathrow, from which I’ll shortly begin the gruelling 30-hour trip home to Adelaide.

Eight days on the other side of the planet is a bit of a cyclonic trip, but I can honestly say that it was entirely worth it. My first port of call was London where I attended the Zoological Society of London’s Protected Areas Symposium, which is the main topic on which I’ll elaborate shortly.

But I also visited my friend and colleague, Dr. Kate Parr at the University of Liverpool, where I also had the pleasure of talking with Rob Marrs and Mike Begon. Liverpool was also where I first observed the habits of a peculiar, yet extremely common species – the greater flabby, orange-skinned, mini-skirted, black-eyed scouser. Fascinating.

I then had the privilege and serendipitous indulgence of visiting the beautiful and quaint city of York where I gave another talk to the Environment Department at the University of York. My host, Dr. Kate Arnold was simply lovely, and I got to speak with a host of other very clever people including Callum Roberts, Phil Platts, Andy Marshall and Murray Rudd. Between the chats and real ales, mushy peas, pork pies and visits to the Minster, I was in north English heaven.

Enough of the cultural compliments – the title of this post was the take-home message of the ZSL symposium. There I gave a 25-minute talk summarising our recent paper on the performance of tropical protected areas around the globe, and added a few extra analyses in the process. One interesting result that was missing from the original paper was the country-level characteristics that explain variation in protected area ‘health’ (as we defined it in the Nature paper). After looking at a number of potential drives, including per-capita wealth, governance quality, environmental performance, human population density and the proportion of high conservation-value protected areas (IUCN Ia, Ib, II and IV categories), it came out that at least at that coarse country scale that only the proportion of high conservation-value protected areas explained any additional variation in health. In other words, the more category Ia, Ib, II and IV protected areas a country has (relative to the total), the better their protected areas do on average (and remember, we’re talking largely about developing and tropical nations here).

My presentation, along with several others, followed by the inevitable chats and questions, appear to indicate a growing realisation in the protected-areas community – that just adding more and more protected areas is not enough to ensure biodiversity preservation within them; you have to put in some hard-core management to make them work. Indeed – we reported this trend in the Nature paper, but people like Ben Collen of the ZSL stated boldly that even increasing the size of a protected area is less effective than really good management.

I also had a chat with Ian Craigie of James Cook University who pretty much found the same thing for protected areas in Africa. He had access to individual PA-level budgets and management plans, so his finer-scale conclusions seem to confirm our broader-scale ones. The next step with our global sample is to try to get a hold of just such PA-specific data – I hope we can manage to convince the relevant managers to provide them.

Of course, the IUCN protected-areas representatives who attended the symposium were most interested in this conclusion, and believe that more emphasis needs to made on this at the policy level worldwide. It should be noted too that we’re not necessarily talking about more money either; rather, efficient and effective use of the money invested is key. Given the poor performance of some of the best-funded protected areas in the world such as Kakadu National Park and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, this cannot be overstated – being financially well off does not guarantee biodiversity preservation at all. You have to put in the effort too.

So hats off to the ZSL and Lucas Joppa, Jonathan Baillie, John Robinson and the other organisers for a great symposium (and thanks for the invitation).

CJA Bradshaw

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