Advocacy 4.4: Key Messages
The main messages for advocacy, and their presentation, need to be thought about carefully. They will differ for different audiences and aims. IBAs are useful and valuable for a number of reasons. Summary messages might include the following:
Sites are a very effective starting point for conservation action
Sites are discrete areas of habitat that can be delineated and, at least potentially, managed for conservation. Effective protection of sites can address habitat loss and over-exploitation, two of the major causes of biodiversity loss. Protection of a network of sites is usually cost-effective, because a relatively small network can support numerous species, communities and habitats. Protection of a network of sites allows a significant degree of human use of landscapes, so is consistent with sustainable development and poverty alleviation agendas. Sites are thus a major focus of conservation investment by government, donors and civil society. In particular, they form the basis of most protected area networks. Site conservation alone may not be sufficient to prevent biodiversity loss. Issues of the connectivity between sites, impacts in the surrounding landscape, and particular species management needs will often need to be considered. However, sites represent the most practical and effective starting point for conservation action and planning.
Birds are an excellent basis for site networks
Birds are an important conservation focus in their own right. They play vital ecological roles, including seed-dispersal and pollination; they have substantial economic value; and they have a significant place in most cultures. Birds have meaning, resonance and symbolic value for many audiences, and there is often a strong constituency for bird conservation.
There is increasing evidence that birds are also some of the best available indicators of biodiversity value. In part, this is simply because they are better known than any other taxonomic group. Their distribution, habitat requirements and taxonomy are well understood. A great deal of knowledge and high quality data on the status of birds already exists, and new data are relatively inexpensive to collect.
However, some other features also tend to make birds good indicators. They have high diversity, but are generally easy to identify and record in the field. They occur in nearly all habitats, and include both common and wide-ranging, and threatened and/or restricted-range, species.
Birds thus provide an excellent starting point for identifying networks of sites for conservation. Studies have shown that birds can be a highly effective means of setting geographical priorities for conservation, when detailed information on other taxa is lacking. Conservation of IBAs can be expected to make a very significant contribution to the conservation of overall biodiversity. IBAs form an effective ‘first cut’ of the larger network of key biodiversity areas (see section 4, below.)
IBAs are identified objectively, and form a common currency for conservation
IBAs are identified according to objective, standardised criteria. This gives them authority and credibility. They also form a global currency for conservation: although the urgency for action at individual IBAs may differ, each one has passed a recognised threshold for international importance.
For a particular region or country, the framing and application of the IBA criteria draws on the widest possible array of ornithological knowledge. This, combined with careful quality-control, provides a sound and reliable scientific basis for the IBA list. As a result, the IBA process is widely recognised as extremely effective in identifying sites of international conservation significance. Increasingly, this recognition has been formalised in legal frameworks, both regionally (e.g. in the European Union) and nationally (e.g. in Ecuador).
IBAs help address gaps in protected areas systems
Most investment in site-based conservation is in the form of protected areas systems. However, protected area systems have rarely been developed systematically for biodiversity conservation. As a result, existing systems have major gaps. Because IBAs are identified according to objective, scientific criteria, irrespective of current protection status, they often lie outside of existing national protected areas systems. Therefore, the IBA network can be used as a tool to review existing national protected areas systems, identify gaps in coverage, and earmark candidate sites for expansion or designation of protected areas to address these gaps.
IBA designation does not prescribe a particular conservation approach
IBAs are identified on the basis of biology and geography. Designation as an IBA does not mean that a site is, or should be, protected under any formal mechanisms. Neither does the list of IBAs in itself constitute a conservation plan. IBA designation highlights the importance of a site for conservation, but in itself does not prescribe how conservation should be achieved. Neither does it make any statement about land ownership.
In many countries, it will not be feasible or desirable to designate every IBA as a formal protected area. Resource limitations, conflicting land ownership, and high opportunity costs in productive landscapes often make this difficult. Also, formal protected area designation may not necessarily be the most effective approach to site-based protection, especially where many people live in and/or use an IBA. Indeed, in some circumstances, formal protected area designation could be counter-productive to conservation objectives, particularly where protected area regulations restrict traditional land- and natural-resource-use practices that are compatible with or contribute to the biological value of a site.
In such circumstances, alternative approaches to site -based protection of IBAs are needed. These could include community-managed conservation areas, private reserves and voluntary agreements with land-owners. In many cases, these approaches may be cost-effective and help to engage support from non-traditional sources. They may also provide greater opportunities for sustainable human use of natural resources, and therefore, make a greater contribution to poverty alleviation among people for whom natural resources form a critical component of their livelihood strategies.
IBAs are an anchor for landscape-level conservation, and the building blocks of networks
For many species, protecting individual sites is an effective initial approach to conservation. In the longer-term, however, many species require the protection of an inter-connected network of sites. This is particularly important for species with wide home ranges, low natural densities and/or migratory behaviour, for which individual sites cannot support long-term viable populations. Protection of inter-connected networks is also essential for the maintenance of broad-scale ecological and evolutionary processes, and for buffering the future effects of climate change.
Landscape-level conservation initiatives typically involve the identification and integration into broader socio-political agendas of inter-connected networks of core areas, linked by habitat corridors, protected by buffer zones and, in some cases, further developed by restoration areas. The IBA network very often represents the most comprehensive assessment of internationally important sites for conservation. Thus, IBAs can be adopted as core areas for such networks, with additional core areas being identified for other taxonomic groups as available data permit.
IBAs are easy to understand, and an excellent way to engage people in conservation
The IBA concept, though based on sound science, is easy to grasp. At both the national and the local levels, IBAs provide a means to engage a wide range of people in conservation. The participatory approach to IBA identification and documentation builds ownership of the initial list of sites, and consensus that they are priorities for conservation. IBA designation can be an excellent focus for developing local pride and concern for a particular site, and involvement in its conservation.
IBAs are a tool to mainstream biodiversity into other policy sectors
In most countries, biodiversity conservation objectives are poorly integrated into the plans and policies of other sectors, such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, mining, transport, energy and tourism. This can lead to biodiversity being eroded through incompatible development projects and patterns of land use. IBAs provide essential, accurate, up-to-date information on the conservation importance of sites, based on clear, objective and universally accepted criteria. Consequently, IBAs represent a valuable tool for integrating biodiversity into policy and planning, and for the clear and consistent implementation of government and donor environmental safeguard policies.
IBAs contribute a huge amount to socio-economic development
IBAs are not only important for birds and biodiversity but also for socio-economic development at the local and national levels. IBAs provide numerous ecosystem goods and services, often contributing significantly to human livelihoods. For example, coastal IBAs may be a source of marine products for fishing communities, while forest IBAs may be a source of non-timber forest products, such as fuel wood and medicinal plants, for rural communities. Conservation of the national IBA network would bring significant benefits to national economies, because many IBAs provide high-value ecosystem services, such as catchment protection and flood control. Consequently, provided that the socio-economic benefits of IBAs can be equitably shared, and their biological values simultaneously maintained, IBA conservation should be an objective shared by conservationists, local communities and governments alike.
IBAs support national commitments under multilateral environmental agreements
IBA identification and conservation helps national governments and donor agencies to meet their commitments under multilateral environmental agreements. These agreements include the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar Convention), the World Heritage Convention and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).
There are strong similarities between the criteria for identifying important sites for conservation under several multilateral environmental agreements and the IBA criteria. Thus, many IBAs meet the criteria for designation under these agreements. Therefore one way in which IBAs can support national commitments under multilateral environmental agreements is by identifying candidate sites for designation.
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