A PA belongs to a broader territory
Biodiversity conservation should be approached as a system on various different, interconnected scales. Between interaction and complementarity, the choice of scale is a strategic, political, technical and financial one. The “right” conservation scale depends on what we wish to protect (specific species, landscape or ecosystems). From the local scale to the ecosystem scale each level is pertinent for biodiversity conservation but the objectives differ and hence so do the actions to be implemented.
The protected area itself is seen as the usual scale for conservation actions; its management is intrinsically linked to the national or sub-regional scale, essential levels particularly for the legal aspects. Working at these scales is also more logical in terms of influencing policy and lobbying. This is the case for the Regional marine and coastal programme along the West African Atlantic coast, which set up shared species conservation programmes – action on a smaller scale would have been pointless.
Ecological corridors joining protected areas also raise a certain number of questions as to the right of usage in these specific areas that are confused with peripheral and buffer zones. In practice, it is most often means applying certain conservation measures in the area between neighbouring protected areas. This tool aims to create landscape (habitat) and functional (communities) linkages between protected areas to limit the effects of fragmentation. While often controversial as their effectiveness has yet to be validated, the corridor remains nonetheless an area development tool that is much-lauded by conservation managers. This stance is usually taken as a principle of precaution that is hard to refute in light of the significant pressure on biodiversity and its habitats in general.
All the scales are potentially legitimate depending on the situation and should be determined according to the context and resources available. An approach on the ecosystem scale has become the norm as it helps to integrate most of the issues relating to the conservation of an area, although where the factors affecting it begin and end needs to be able to be determined.
The notion of subsidiarity arises here. The most pertinent scale should always be the one where the best results can be achieved. To establish this, it could be useful to analyse the ecological gaps at different levels as well as the possible solutions, to identify the appropriate actors and procedures. This would probably mean working on “illegitimate” groupings (ones with no official recognition) such as the areas targeted by the ECOFAC project (EU funding in Central Africa), but this is not a problem if it leads to tangible, ultimately transferrable results.
A few ways to achieve that
The scale of a conservation area depends on management priorities and feasibility in terms of capacities, skills and resources. Yet should conservation be limited to a particular scale?
All scales have their potential advantages and they probably combine to give good results for conservation.
- The need to take into account peripheral zones in protected area management is noted.
- The landscape scale is an interesting experiment in the medium term, particularly regarding political lobbying and advocacy issues. These great, sometimes transboundary “laboratories” produce lessons learned, facilitate sharing of experience and federate stakeholders, all of which are advantageous.
- Experiments with scales such as biomes or hotspots could be a good tool to determine the pertinent scale for action and to delimit a conservation area.
In light of the different possible scales, it would appear important to analyse the conservation priorities to determine the appropriate scale of intervention effectively. Analysis of ecological gaps helps identify urgent issues and prioritise actions, thus leading to the choice of scale for action.
- The most appropriate stakeholders to respond to the challenges raised in the analysis must be identified and associated to decisions.
- Working at the scale of a protected area is pragmatic and rapid, but it is not necessarily sustainable (especially if it is a small area). It may excludes lots of useful if not irreplaceable stakeholders.
- Working at the scale of a landscape widens the spectrum of stakeholders and responsibilities making it possible to include more people to the decisions, and to target select action zones based on the gap analysis.
- The scale of an eco-region can help to prioritise more widely within a shared frame of reference with a longer-term vision. This approach is important for raising public awareness and prioritising regional policies.