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Conservation is the protection, preservation, management, or restoration of wildlife and natural resources such as forests and water. Through the conservation of biodiversity the survival of many species and habitats which are threatened due to human activities can be ensured. Other reasons for conserving biodiversity include securing valuable Natural Resources for future generations and protecting the well being of eco-system functions. Other services provided from biodiversity by following this link: Services for Biodiversity page

In-situ and ex-situ conservation

Conservation can broadly be divided into two types:

In-situ: Conservation of habitats, species and ecosystems where they naturally occur. This is in-situ conservation and the natural processes and interaction are conserved as well as the elements of biodiversity.

Ex-situ: The conservation of elements of biodiversity out of the context of their natural habitats is referred to as ex-situ conservation. Zoos, botanical gardens and seed banks are all example of ex-situ conservation.

In-situ conservation is not always possible as habitats may have been degraded and there may be competition for land which means species need to be removed from the area to save them.

Which areas to conserve?

Hotspots of biodiversity

A popular approach for selecting priority areas has been to select hotspots of diversity. Since it is not possible to conserve all biodiversity due to lack of resources and the need to use land for human activities, areas are prioritised to those which are most in need of conservation. ‘Hotspot’ a term used to define regions of high conservation priority combining high richness, high endemism and high threat. For more information on hotspots visit: www.biodiversityhotspots.org

Threatened Species

Over the last 200 years many species have become extinct and the extinction rate is on the increase due to the influence of human activity. The status of species has been assessed on a global scale by the World Conservation Union. Taxa that are facing a high risk of global extinction are catalogued and highlighted in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The Red list database and guidelines on the application of IUCN Red List criteria at sub-national or regional levels can be accessed by following the links below:
Red list database: www.redlist.org
Guidelines for use: www.iucn.org/themes/ssc/redlists/regionalguidelines.htm

woman implementing conservation work
Threatened Habitats

Habitat destruction comes in many forms from clear felling of forests to simple changes in farming practices that change the overall surrounding habitat. If a habitat is degraded or disappears a species may also become threatened. The UK is in danger of losing diverse habitats ranging from lowland calcareous grassland to mudflats and wet woodland. The UK BAP has specific Habitat Action Plans in place in order to try and mange and conserve these precious places. Many of these areas lie within SSSIs which are designated prioritised areas of conservation.


Flagship and keystone species

Conservation efforts are often focused on a single species. This is usually for two reasons.
1) Some species are key to the functioning of a habitat and their loss would lead to greater than average change in other species populations or ecosystem processes. These are known as keystone species.
2) Humans will find the idea of conserving one species more appealing than conserving others. For example it would be easier to persuade people that it is necessary to conserve tigers that it is to persuade people to conserve the Zayante band-winged grasshopper. Using a flagship species such as a tiger will attract more resources for conservation which can be used to conserve areas of habitat.


Complementarity is a method used to select areas for conservation. These methods are used to find areas that in sum total have the highest representation of diversity. For example using complementarity methods, areas could be selected that would contain the most species between them but not necessarily be the most species rich areas individually and take into account pressures of development.

Distinguishing higher from lower priority areas for urgent conservation is the purpose of such area-selection methods. However, an acceptance of priorities must recognise that this idea also implies that some areas will be given lower priority. This is not to say that they have no conservation values rather that in relation to agreed goals the actions are not as urgent.

Where identities of species or other biodiversity indicators (see the measuring biodiversity page) are known, complementarity methods can be applied

Integrating conservation and development

Conservation can not be conducted in isolation from humans and for conservation to be successful and sustainable there needs to be local community involvement. In the UK most biodiversity is found in countryside which is farmed. It is therefore necessary to integrate conservation into farming practices. In other areas of the world livelihood and development priorities of local communities must be taken into account if the conservation measures are to be sustainable.

Community-Based Natural Resource Management is a process through which grass roots institutions are involved in the decision making and have rights to manage and control their environment. CBNRM Net (Community-Based Natural Resource Management Network) is a website that provides useful networking tools so that people can exchange experiences, manage relevant knowledge, and support learning across countries and cultures and in this way achieve better results. IIED have set up a Biodiversity and Livelihoods Group which aims through sustainable management of biodiversity to improve the livelihoods of the poor. BLG researches, analyses and implements new projects and strategies around the world.

Hippo'sA good example this type of integration is being shown by an Earthwatch project in Africa. The project helped create a wildlife reserve that was initiated by the Wechiau and Tokali local communities. The Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary now generates income for the local communities via eco-tourism which helps conserve and protect hippos and other sanctuary wildlife at the same time. This expedition and other Earthwatch expeditions can be found at: http://www.earthwatch.org/expedselect.html


The Main International and UK Designations for Conservation

In order to protect different areas across the world sites are designated for conservation. Different designations of protection are given to sites depending on what the site contains and it’s priorities for conservation and management. The IUCN definition of a protected area is as follows:

An area of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means

IUCN Protected Area Management Categories

Management Area Mainly managed for:
Strict Nature Reserve Wilderness Area Science
Wilderness protection
2 National Park Ecosystem protection and recreation
3 Natural Monument Conservation of specific natural features
4 Habitat/species Conservation through management intervention
5 Protected Landscape/Seascape Landscape/seascape conservation and recreation
6 Managed Resource Protected Area Sustainable use of natural ecosystems

UK designation

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI’s) – designated under National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act (NP&AC), Wildlife and Countryside Act (WCA) and CRoW Act.
Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI’s) (Northern Ireland) – Environment (NI) Order
Nature Conservation Order – WCA
Special Nature Conservation Order – habitats regulations
Marine nature reserves – WCA
Areas of Special Protection for Birds – WCA
Bird Sanctuaries – Protection of Birds Act
National Parks – NP&AC
Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) – NP&AC
National Scenic Areas (Scotland) – NP&AC
Environmentally sensitive Areas - Agriculture Act
Natural Heritage Areas – Natural heritage (Scotland) Act
Limestone Pavement Orders – WCA
Nature Conservation review sites – Listed in the Nature Conservation review
Geological conservation review (GCR) sites
Local Nature reserves – NP&AC


Ramsar sites – designated under the Convention on Wetlands of international Importance.
Biosphere reserves – designated under the UNESCO Man and The biosphere Programme
Biogenetic reserves – designated under the Berne Convention
World Heritage sites – designated under the UNESCO Convention for the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage.
European sites and candidate European sites – Includes Special Areas of Conservation (SAC’s) - designated under the Habitats Directive. Special Protected Areas (SPA’s) designated under the Wild Birds Directive.
European Diploma sites – designated by Council of Europe



Photo credit: Grizzly bear, Bruce Belcher. Hippos and woman doing conservation work, Laura Morrison.


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