Covering about 25% of the world’s total continental land surface and home to more than 85% of the world’s species of amphibians, birds, and mammals, mountains contain extraordinary natural values, a unique and diverse biodiversity and some of the world’s most stunning landscapes. They provide more ecosystem services that support life on earth than any other biome and are a unique living cultural heritage for mountain communities, many of which are geographically isolated.
Half of the world’s 36 Biodiversity Hotspots occur in mountains, demonstrating their extraordinary and diverse biodiversity yet, that is sadly also under threat. Mountains provide diverse elevation gradients that result in a rich variety of biodiversity; however, protected areas often do not adequately protect the range of elevation that is required to provide a comprehensive ecosystem protection. 19 % of mountains are in a protected area, a higher percentage than the general terrestrial cover of 15%. Even so, there are many areas of mountains and entire mountain ranges still unprotected. Only half of the 4000 or so Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) in mountains are more than 50% protected. Twenty one percent of KBAs could be in a protected area, while 35% have no protected area status.
Climate change is the greatest threat to mountain features and biodiversity. Glacial melting and increase in wildfires are examples; directly related to increasing temperatures and lower rainfall experienced in many mountain areas.
As one of our Nature Based Solutions, protecting and conserving important sites for mountain biodiversity is vital for ensuring long term and sustainable use of mountain natural resources and to build resilience and the current level of protection is relatively low.
A theme this year is “youth in mountains”. Mountain Protected areas have for generations provided youth with their first and enduring wilderness experiences where self-reliance and personal challenge in outstanding natural and rugged landscapes has inspired their ongoing connection to nature. In many places around the world, school camps and camps for disadvantaged youth are more than likely in or close to mountain protected areas for these reasons. Mountain protected areas are critical for youth to prosper from challenging and inspiring nature based experiences.
So while celebrating mountains, we need to understand that they are under threat from elements such as climate change, unsustainable resource use, infrastructure and invasive species. There is more work to do to improve their levels of protection through effective area-based protection or conservation measures.
International Mountains Day is a great opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the wonderful range of Mountain Protected Areas around the World. If you can, find a place to contemplate and celebrate mountains on 11 December; World Mountain Day.