Protected areas (nature reserves, national parks and the like) are one of the pillars of conservation science, an absolute key way in which we are able to protect biodiversity. But we have surprisingly little evidence on their effectiveness, and there are growing concerns that many protected areas aren’t being well managed, meaning they’re not actually conserving the biodiversity they were set up to protect.

Next year, the UN is establishing post-2020 goals for how we should protect the natural world, and it’s crucial there is the correct evidence to inform how these policies are made. So are protected areas working? Or do we need to ensure greater investment in management and enforcement, to ensure they actually conserve species?

To answer this, I’m working with a large team (+ their data) from two fantastic organisations - Wetlands International and The Living Planet Index. We have population trends of thousands of species from right across the globe. Using these, we can compare trends of populations inside protected areas to populations outside protected areas (and also how the populations have fared pre- and post-protection) to see whether protected populations are actually doing better.

The study is underway, and we’ve written a pre-analysis to explain what we’re going to do. It can be found here, and stay tuned for the results.

** 2020 Update **

Quantifying protected area impact has proved much more difficult than we ever could have imagined! After a lot of time figuring things out, and muddling through various failed attempts, the team and I have written an opion piece in Trends in Ecology and Evolution about the ways to quantify impact when working with time series.

Having worked this all out, the paper is getting there, and we’re hoping to submit it and release results early next year.