Do Protected Areas work? Assessing long-term land-cover change in priority sites for conservation in Africa using remote sensing.

Land-cover change is perhaps the single greatest threat to biodiversity. The Protected Area (PA) network aims to protect key sites, including from adverse land-cover change and represents one of the major pillars of global biodiversity conservation. Despite the significance attached to PAs, including their central role in CBD reporting, their effectiveness in preventing anthropogenic land-cover change (especially in sites of objectively defined biodiversity value) remains uncertain, especially outside of forest habitats.

This project has used higher resolution remote sensing data to track changes in all natural land cover (not just forest) on a large sample of sites of conservation importance (BirdLife's Important Bird Areas) in Africa and in buffer zones surrounding them. The sample was stratified to include sites of high nature conservation value that fall within and outside the Protected Area network to assess whether rates of change in PAs differ from those in other areas of recognised conservation importance. Results indicate that protection is effective at reducing  but not halting the loss of natural land cover. Correlates of the observed changes are currently being identified, in order to determine if we can identify particularly “at risk” areas.

This project was funded by the CCI Collaborative Fund for Conservation.

Project Aims

This project aimed to:

  • Assess the effectiveness of PA status in reducing adverse land-cover change (BirdLife, RSPB, UNEP-WCMC)
  • Develop long-term indices of land-cover change in PAs in Africa, which can be disaggregated and compared by region, habitat, management etc., (BirdLife, RSPB, UNEP-WCMC)
  • Identify characteristics of sites at high risk of land-cover change and identify correlates of PA success and failure (Cambridge University)
  • Using these characteristics, identify PAs at high risk of degradation (Cambridge University, UNEP-WCMC)
  • Make a major contribution to the debate on the effectiveness of PAs at preventing adverse land-cover change (all partners)
  • Publish results in high-ranking scientific journals (all partners)
  • Feed the results into existing CBD, IBA and PA monitoring (UNEP-WCMC, BirdLife)
  • Produce a protocol to guide the future monitoring of African PAs using remote sensing (UNEP-WCMC, RSPB, BirdLife) and so contribute to the development of GEOPAAM, the UNEP-WCMC led GEOSS initiative

Conservation Impact

The impacts of this project include:

  • Scientific support for advocacy work on the legal protection of IBAs
  • The development of an approach for standardised monitoring land cover change on sites of conservation importance
  • An easy to use web based tool developed and made available
  • Strengthen existing links with the European Commission Joint Research Council (JRC) and to develop new links with Aston University in Birmingham


  1. Paper: Open-source mapping and services for Web-based land-cover validation. Bastin, L., Buchanan, G., Beresford, A., Pekel, J-F., Dubois, G. & Gross, D. (2013) Ecological Informatics, 14: 9-16 (see a demonstration of this tool in the 'related links' below).
  2. Poster: Protection Reduces Loss of Natural Land-cover at Sites of Conservation Importance Across Africa, presented at the ZSL, Institute of Zoology Symposium on Protected Areas - are they safeguarding biodiversity? (November 8 -9, 2012)
  3. Paper: Protection Reduces Loss of Natural Land-Cover at Sites of Conservation Importance across Africa. Beresford, A.E., Eshiamwata, G.W., Donald, P.F., Balmford, A., Bertzky, B. et al. (2013)  PLoS ONE, 8(5): e65370.

CCI partners Involved

The Department of Zoology carries out wide-ranging work in ecology and conservation including conservation science, aquatic ecology, pathogen evolution and evolutionary ecology. Research of the...
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) speaks out for birds and wildlife, tackling the problems that threaten our environment. It is the largest wildlife conservation organisation in...
The UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) is the specialist biodiversity assessment arm of the United Nations Environment Programme, the world’s foremost intergovernmental...
BirdLife International is a strategic global partnership of conservation organisations in over 100 countries, working to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, and to promote...

Related Resources

Resource Title Description Type
Correlates of long-term land-cover change and protected area performance at priority conservation sites in Africa The loss of natural habitats is a major threat to biodiversity, and protected area designation is one of the standard responses to this threat. However, greater understanding of the drivers of... Journal articles
Open-source mapping and services for Web-based land-cover validation This paper, an output of a CCI Collaborative Fund project, presents an example of a web-based solution based on free and open-source software and standards (including PostGIS, OpenLayers, Web Map... Journal articles
Protection reduces loss of natural land-cover at sites of conservation importance across Africa This poster was produced and presented at the ZSL Institute of Zoology symposium Protected Areas - are they safeguarding biodiversity? The symposium held on November 8 and 9th 2012 aimed to provide a... Talks and presentations
Protection Reduces Loss of Natural Land-Cover at Sites of Conservation Importance across Africa While there is broad agreement that protected areas play a significant role in reducing land-cover change, quantifiable evidence for their efficacy can be difficult to obtain. In this paper Alison... Journal articles