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Private protected areas could help save threatened wildlife

In a new study from the University of Leeds, researchers have assessed more than 17,000 privately protected areas (PPAs) across five continents. The study is the largest of its kind to investigate how PPAs help conserve highly threatened regions and underrepresented habitats.

Privately protected areas are privately managed portions of land set aside to preserve biodiversity and ecosystems. While these regions are increasing in number, the extent of their contribution to conservation has remained unknown.

The experts found that, when compared to state protected areas, privately protected areas are twice as likely to be exposed to human disturbances, such as farming or mining. In addition, the study shows that PPAs are three times more likely to be in biomes with almost no established conservation reserves.

“Our study shows that privately protected areas can make unique and very real contributions to the conservation estate. They deserve more attention, recognition and resources for better design and implementation,” said study lead author Rachel Palfrey.

“By recognizing their role in conservation efforts, more can be done to coordinate the establishment of privately protected areas and maximise their benefits.”

“State governed protected areas dominate conservation strategies in most countries but government action alone will be insufficient to reach global conservation targets and help safeguard against devastating biodiversity loss.”

The researchers found that PPAs account for 3.4 percent of land under protection, and increase the connectivity between conserved areas by more than seven percent. According to the researchers, connectivity is incredibly important in supporting seed dispersal and animal migration. 

“The current global network of protected areas underrepresents key species and ecosystems. It lacks connectivity and does not adequately protect areas of high wildlife and biodiversity importance,” said Dr. Johan Oldekop of the University of Manchester. 

“Privately protected areas are not the silver bullet for conservation efforts, but they are clearly an important part of the picture.”

“This study highlights the importance of using all available resources and interests to establish vitally important protected portions of land. Greater legislative, technical and financial support for privately protected areas could help facilitate their establishment and also strengthen legal frameworks for other forms of conservation, including indigenous reserves and community conserved areas.”

Dr. George Holmes noted that further research is needed to examine the underlying factors and governance structures that influence the landscape choices of privately protected areas.

“Future analyses should include efforts to better understand the role of different stakeholders, such as private landowners and land trusts, and their motivations for the establishment of privately protected areas, as well as assessments of national policies and incentives that support privately protected areas.”

Conservation efforts will be a key topic at the upcoming UN biodiversity Conference in May 2022. 

The study is published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Image Credit: George Holmes, University of Leeds

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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