Protected areas need effective management to protect biodiversity

Protected areas have a mixed impact on wildlife and don’t always boost biodiversity, according to a study published in Nature. This is the largest ever global survey about the impact of protected areas. The study shows that without proper management with the aim of increasing biodiversity, establishing parks is an ineffective way to protect wildlife.

At the end of 2022, world leaders will meet in China to set the agenda for global conservation for the next ten years. The idea that we need to protect at least 30% of Earth’s surface is gaining momentum, but this study suggests that just setting this area is not enough to guarantee the preservation of biodiversity. The authors believe we also need to define how these protected areas are going to be managed.

A team of researchers from the Universities of Exeter ad Cambridge analysed more than 27,000 waterbirds living in 1500 protected areas spread over 68 countries. The researchers decided to focus on waterbirds because they’re well studied and found all over the world. Also, easy mobility means they can look for a new location if the quality of their normal routes starts to deteriorate. The study relied on thousands of volunteers worldwide to collect the data on waterbird population numbers.

“We know that protected areas can prevent habitat loss, especially in terms of stopping deforestation. However, we have much less understanding of how protected areas help wildlife,” said lead author Dr. Hannah Wauchope of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall. “Our study shows that, while many protected areas are working well, many others are failing to have a positive effect. Rather than focussing solely on the total global area protected, we need more focus on ensuring areas are well-managed to benefit biodiversity.”

The authors compared waterbird populations before and after protected areas were established, as well as variations outside protected areas. This provided a much more detailed picture than previous studies. They found significant variations in protected areas, including some with impressive results and others with no impact on biodiversity, depending on how they were managed.

“We are not saying protected areas don’t work,” Dr. Wauchope said. “The key point is that their impacts vary hugely, and the biggest thing this depends on is whether they are managed with species in mind – we can’t just expect protected areas to work without appropriate management.”

“To slow biodiversity loss, we need a much better understanding of which conservation approaches work and which don’t. This analysis gives really useful indications of how conservation can be improved to deliver better outcomes for species,” added Professor Julia Jones from Bangor University, a co-author of the study.


Wauchope, H.S., Jones, J.P.G., Geldmann, J. et al. Protected areas have a mixed impact on waterbirds, but management helps. Nature (2022).

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