Quality indicators for protected land

A roadmap for Sweden

In Sweden, as in other countries around the world, species and their habitats are threatened by increased exploitation of natural resources. One of the most important ways in which species and habitats can be preserved is through setting off land in reserves, national parks, biotope protection and the like.

Protected areas, however, entails implementation costs and possibly future management costs. It is therefore important that protected areas are set off in an optimal way for maximal return in benefits to nature at smallest cost.

A small hill with bushes and a path. A fence in the foreground with a sign saying it's a protected area. Photo.

The spatial allocation of protected areas, in relation to each other as well as to the intervening landscape, is one important factor determining their function in preserving biodiversity.  For example, the size, shape and spatial arrangement of protected areas as well as the characteristics of the surrounding landscape affect the ability of threatened species to survive in, and move between, suitable habitats and thereby also the exchange of individuals and genes between populations which in turn would influence their ability to persist in the long run. Many threatened species are also dependent on the regular disturbance of their habitats (such as grazing, fires, flooding) which puts high demands on the maintenance of protected areas.

To be able to evaluate the conservation benefits of protected areas we need good measures of their conservation function. Thus far, such evaluations have focussed on the area of protected land while other aspects are rarely considered.

In this project we will synthesise knowledge that can form the foundation for developing one or several indicators of the conservation functioning of protected areas in Sweden. We do this by summarising available indicators measuring the effect of land protection on single species as well as biodiversity in general and tools that can be used to evaluate and inform decisions on allocation of protected areas. We synthesise available scientific information on ecological processes affecting decisions about spatial allocation of protected areas in Sweden, such as edge effects, meta-population dynamics, connectivity, and including the ability of protected areas to fulfil requirements of species dependent on regular or large-scale disturbance.

We also summarise the availability of data, e.g. from various environmental monitoring programs, to quantify those aspects of protected areas that are important for the preservation of species and habitats. In a final synthesis, we will summarise if and how the different components can be combined into tools and indicators that can be used in optimal planning of land protection in Sweden.

The project is a collaboration between researchers at Lund University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). It is financed by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agancy and is one of four projects on indicators for biodiversity at landscape scale which in turn is part of the agency’s allocation for environmental research.