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Assessing threats to terrestrial protected areas

Protected areas (PAs) across the world are threatened by unsustainable resource use and human disturbance, a paper, published this week in Conservation Letters, has found.

In the study, the authors looked at data from nearly 2000 protected areas to identify the most common threats they face.  Unsustainable hunting and negative impacts from recreational activities were the most commonly reported threats by PA managers, occurring in 61% and 55% of all protected areas considered in the study. There were distinct geographical differences in where these threats occur between developing and developed countries.  Protected areas also reported higher risk from threats if they were in countries that suffered from corruption, and had a lower Human Development Index (HDI score).

Threats from overexploitation, in particular hunting, were most prevalent in developing countries, where local communities in and around protected areas depend on hunting and resource collection for their livelihoods.

Lauren Coad, an author on the paper and UNEP-WCMC Fellow, said:

“Wildmeat hunting has provided an important source of food and income for local communities for millennia. However, increasing human populations, demand from urban centres and improved access to once remote areas means that in many areas hunting levels are now unsustainable, negatively impacting biodiversity and the rural communities which depend on it. Potential solutions may include reducing the demand for wildmeat in cities, (where it is often consumed as a preference, rather than as a necessity), the provision of alternatives to wildmeat, such as domestic chicken and other livestock, in provincial towns, and the sustainable management of wildmeat use and trade in rural areas, which around protected areas will often involve collaborative co-management of wildlife resources between local communities and protected area managers.”

In developed countries, threats were more likely from human disturbance through recreational activities (such as off-road vehicle access, cross-country skiing, mountain biking or hiking). These geographically distinct threats highlight the need for different solutions on the ground, including ensuring sustainable livelihoods for local communities and better management of visitor activities in protected areas.

The paper highlights that the most serious threats to protected areas are difficult to monitor using remote sensing techniques, such as satellite images, and reinforces the importance of collecting information from PA managers and other experts.

Katharina Schulze, lead author of the paper, said:

“While advances in technology have led to important steps forward in our knowledge of the human impacts on global biodiversity (such as forest loss, or changes in the extent of sea ice), it cannot replace the experience of PA managers, and local communities, who have in-depth knowledge of local threats to biodiversity and how these can be managed. We need to make sure that this knowledge and experience is collated and used alongside more easily accessible data such as satellite imagery”.

Image: tr3gi - stock.adobe.com

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