A new study published in the journal Nature suggests that there is room for improvement when it comes to protected areas and their impact on wildlife.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN):

“A protected area is a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.”

This includes areas such as national parks, nature reserves, wilderness areas and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

When you look at the definition of a protected area by the IUCN and as the findings of this study would suggest, it’s not just as simple as selecting an area on the map and calling it a protected area. Especially when research indicates that wildlife populations in protected areas are not necessarily any better off than those in unprotected ones.

As reported by the BBC, the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) is taking place in the next few weeks to form the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework. A key target is to protect 30% of the Earth’s surface by 2030. Researchers stress that the focus needs to be more on the quality of these areas rather than the quantity.

As we have discussed in our previous blog, the smallest of changes can have large consequences to a species and its ecosystem and we need that focus on biodiversity. Looking at how to measure it and how this can help combat biodiversity loss.

Protected areas need to be well-managed to ensure that they are not only sustaining populations but benefiting them and enabling them to thrive.

An example of this is the restoration of wetlands in the UK which resulted in a conservation success story for the bittern, a member of the heron family. With an estimation of only 11 males remaining in the whole of the UK in 1997, the RSPB was able to report last year there were 228 males counted. This involved the systematic restoration and re-creation of wetlands which has also encouraged other species to return, such as cranes, spoonbills and egrets. Thinking about ecosystem services from our last blog, wetland conservation plays a role in flood protection and the soil of wetlands also stores carbon-rich plant matter which helps to combat climate change.

Keep an eye out for a future blog following COP-15 where we hope to learn more about the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework.