50 for the Future – Designate new protected areas

Our recent publication, 50 for the Future, lists 50 things that we believe should happen in Scotland over the next 50 years to benefit both people and wildlife. In this week's 50 for the Future article, Chris Mahon, Chief Executive of the IUCN National Committee UK, defines and discusses protected areas and the role they play.


Number 41: Designate new protected areas where nature is allowed to thrive


Just returning from the quadrennial International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress (WCC) in Hawai'i, where protected areas (PAs) were re-affirmed as the cornerstones of nature conservation. Indeed, all that was committed to at the World Parks Congress in 2014 in the 'Promise of Sydney' is being kept alive here. 

And what a way to start the 2016 WCC, with President Obama's announcement of the worlds largest marine protected area, Papahānaumokuākea, now expanded to cover 582,578 sq. miles (1,508,670 sq. km) of the Hawai'ian Islands as a US Marine National Monument, twice the size of Texas. 

Terrestrially, the 'Hawai'i Commitments' from this global meeting recognise the importance of PAs in the global 'big picture', citing: “Nature-based solutions, such as protected areas, have become widely recognized as an essential component of a comprehensive approach to climate change mitigation and adaptation. Restoration of forests and peatlands are examples of such solutions”. 

It is probably worth reminding ourselves of the IUCN definition of what is (and therefore what isn't) a protected area, so here it is: a PA is only a PA when it is 'a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values'. 

Protected Area:

'a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, 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 definition is important for the correct measurement of achievement for Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Aichi Target 11: 'By 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascape.'

For the UK, the importance of these definitions has been highlighted in the recent work of the IUCN National Committee UK, published as “Putting Nature on the Map” (PNOTM). This exercise applied the IUCN definition to those areas identified as PAs by UK government and found some interesting anomalies. Firstly that some areas, which did meet the definition (including half a million hectares of NGO-managed nature reserves), were not included in the tally to the CBD, and other areas which did not meet it, were included. Unfortunately for Scotland these included National Scenic Areas and Regional Parks but other categories in the UK failed to meet the criteria too. On the plus side, land managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust helped to redress the balance along with other NGOs. While the 'should be ins' and the 'should be outs' broadly cancel each other out to still enable the target of 17% terrestrial to be met from the UK perspective, the correct calculations should be applied. It would be interesting to see the results from a Scotland-only exercise.

PNOTM work is now continuing with a focus on the 'other effective area-based conservation measures' (OECM) element of Aichi 11 to see if areas in contention can be justified under this theme. This work will also include seeking greater recognition for 'Privately Protected Areas' and 'Community Conserved Areas' with great potential for contributing examples from Scotland that differ from the rest of the UK.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust manages 120 wildlife reserves in Scotland. © Mary & Angus Hogg

Management effectiveness is key to the whole debate on the conservation value of PAs. There is much talk of 'paper parks' and 'lines on maps'. To this end the PNOTM team plan to host a workshop to examine how effective our PA management is, both on land and in marine environments.

One of IUCN's latest initiatives is the Green List of protected areas, which encourages and celebrates the success of protected areas that reach excellent standards of management. It would be good to see some examples from Scotland coming forward for inclusion in the Green List, using the criteria above.

Finally, while PAs are only one instrument in the conservation toolbox, they remain isolated islands for nature if they are not connected to each other through the wider landscape and the need for 'Connectivity' was another strong theme in the workshops at the WCC in Hawai'i. Good to see this is reflected in the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy along with other themes mentioned in this blog. 

Scotland has a significant opportunity to contribute to the delivery of the Hawai'i Commitments as well as the international obligations it is bound to – peatland and forest restoration are just two examples where Scotland can demonstrate proactivity. And don't forget that the expertise that creates this good practice is needed in other parts of the world – that's where IUCN comes in.

2020 will be an important reporting year as well as the date for the next IUCN WCC. Just over three short years to really get to grips with what needs to be done. Are we up to the task, and if not, what more must we do?

Let us know your thoughts by emailing thefuture@scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk or Tweet @ScotWildlife using #50fortheFuture.

Chris Mahon is the Chief Executive of the IUCN National Committee UK, Development Director at World Heritage UK, Secretariat at The Sibthorp Trust, Chair of the IUCN NCUK Protected Areas Working Group, and Managing Director of Chris Mahon Environment.

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In this week's 50 for the Future article, Chris Mahon defines and discusses protected areas and the role they play.

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