Working outside the boundaries - connecting protected areas for people and nature

24 February 2010 | Fact sheet

Most countries now recognise that their biodiversity conservation planning must include much more than protected areas. They are moving towards a larger, landscape perspective, connecting their conservation strategies over larger expanses of land and sea. Conservation 'corridors' are part of this new thinking and a growing trend in global conservation, allowing wildlife to move across landscapes and interact. Restoring conservation corridors is being seen as a vital component in ensuring the long-term health of ecosystems and species. Corridors such as the 'Yellowstone to Yukon' in the US, 'Atherton to Alps' in eastern Australia or the Green Belt in eastern Europe are capturing the interest of conservationists and the public alike.

Even with over 112,000 protected areas throughout the world, biodiversity is not secure. Protected Areas were often selected for their aesthetic and recreation values, not necessarily to protect threatened species. In many cases, they are just islands of protection in larger zones degraded by human use. Even large protected areas cannot ensure the survival of species they contain in the long term, particularly migratory species or those that need large areas in which to forage. For example, the famous Yellowstone National Park is not able to secure the survival of its large carnivores.

Habitat fragmentation is the leading cause of species extinction. Extensive farming, deforestation and urban development have forced species to migrate to smaller and isolated pockets of protected areas that cannot maintain the species they harbour. With herbivore species declining due to lack of food, carnivores are also diminishing.

In some cases deforestation is forcing birds to have longer migration routes and smaller colonies, reducing the number of breeding sites and making survival increasingly difficult. Connecting protected areas such as in the Wadden See has led to larger areas of habitat for migratory birds, giving them undisturbed areas for breeding and feeding. 

Climate change impacts are also exacerbating species extinction. With higher temperatures and changing habitats, species need to be able to move to survive. Plants start to colonize new areas, often in higher altitudes, forcing the animals that depend on them to move as well. Fire and other natural disasters are also forcing species to migrate to new areas.

The best way to counteract this situation is to maintain and restore larger areas of protection; the second is to establish links between areas and promote interconnectivity. The land around protected areas is often heavily used either by agriculture or human settlement. Creating biological corridors therefore not only requires a large financial investment, but also the understanding and support of the people who depend on the land.

A connectivity conservation area around the Condor Biosphere Reserve in Ecuador enabled protection of the paramos, grasslands and shrubs of the High Andes, whilst protecting a watershed that is essential for the water supply of Quito. Most of the paramos is privately owned but as the government is paying for its water supply, the people living in the paramos are protecting it rather than using it for agriculture.

The Gran Ruta Inca, a road connecting the archaeological remains of the Inca culture crosses 15 of the 100 'eco-regions' of South America. Four of these regions are considered important for biodiversity conservation. Revitalising the Gran Ruta Inca by creating a biological corridor is promoting ecosystem restoration, whilst opening up opportunities to enhance the livelihoods of local populations by increasing tourism along the road.

Connectivity is therefore a way of enabling survival of species by maintaining and restoring the ecosystems on which they depend. Connectivity buffers protected areas, ensures viability of species and increases their options for migration. By ensuring that the local population benefits from the creation of bio corridors, connectivity becomes a more feasible and socially-acceptable way to conserve nature.

A formal description of connectivity is as follows:

The maintenance and restoration of ecosystem integrity requires landscape-scale conservation. This can be achieved through systems of core protected areas that are functionally linked and buffered in ways that maintain ecosystem processes and allow species to survive and move, thus ensuring that populations are viable and that ecosystems and people are able to adapt to land transformation and change.

From the Pappallacta Declaration, Ecuador November 2006