Planning 3.4: Elements to Consider in Priority-setting
Setting priorities for action is about understanding urgency: with limited resources, where should the investment be made first?
One way to think about this is to consider the potential impact on biodiversity if no effective intervention is made at a site. Simply put, this depends on the relative biodiversity importance of a site and the degree of threat, or vulnerability. Where a site has high importance and high threat, it represents a potential large loss of biodiversity in the near future. Intervention at such a site is more urgent than at a site with lower importance and/or lower threat.
A further factor, however, is opportunity (or its inverse, cost). If intervention at a site with high importance and high threat will be enormously expensive, how does this alter the priority?
Importance and threat are also not straightforward concepts. How does an IBA designated for restricted-range species match up, in importance, to one designated for congregatory species? Are all sites designated for a particular ‘trigger’ species considered equal, even though they might hold different populations of that species? It is not just the site’s own biological composition that matters, but how this relates to other sites. Do the trigger species occur only at a particular IBA, making it highly ‘irreplaceable’, or at many sites, giving additional spatial options for conservation?
Similarly, threat has two elements: site-based threat (how likely is it that the site will lose its value for one or more trigger species?) and species-based threat (how likely is it that a trigger species will become globally extinct?). These two measures of vulnerability will sometimes coincide, but not always. They have different implications for conservation prioritisation: in particular, they interact differently with conservation opportunity.
A practical priority-setting framework must address these complications, but also recognise that information on IBAs is often patchy and inadequate: the framework must work well in a data-poor situation.
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