Extent of human encroachment into world’s protected areas revealed


30-10-2019
 Forest transition in Cameroon.  Credit: Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

Largest study yet to compare protected with “matched” unprotected land finds “significantly higher” increases in human pressure – primarily through agriculture – in protected areas across the tropics.

A study of human activity within thousands of conservation spaces in over 150 countries suggests that – on average across the world – protected areas are not reducing the “anthropogenic pressure” on our most precious natural habitats.

Protected areas are vital to preserving diverse life on Earth, as well as mitigating climate change by conserving carbon-sequestering vegetation, say Cambridge scientists. They argue that the findings show the effects of chronic underfunding and a lack of involvement of local communities.

“Rapidly establishing new protected areas to meet global targets without providing sufficient investment and resourcing on the ground is unlikely to halt the unfolding extinction crisis,” said lead author Dr Jonas Geldmann from the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute.  

The research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is by far the largest analysis of its kind to date. Scientists used satellite evidence of night lights and agriculture, as well as census and crop yield data, to assess levels of human encroachment in 12,315 protected areas between 1995 and 2010.

The scientists matched every satellite "pixel" (64 square kilometres) of each protected area to a local pixel of commensurate soil type, elevation, and so on – but without conservation status. This allowed researchers to gauge the effect of protected areas when compared to an “appropriate sample” of unprotected land.

The majority of protected areas in every global region had suffered increases in human pressure. However, across the Northern Hemisphere and Australia, protection had – on average – proved effective at slowing human encroachment when compared with unprotected habitats.

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Image:  Forest transition in Cameroon.

Credit: Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge

 

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