Would we knock down the pyramids or flatten the Acropolis to make way for housing estates, roads or farms? You would hope not. Such an indictment would deprive future generations of the joy and marvel we all experience when visiting or learning about such historic places.
Yet right now, across our planet, many of the United Nations’ Natural World Heritage sites - the jewels in the crown of the conservation movement - are being rapidly destroyed in the pursuit of short-term economic goals. They are much more threatened than was previously thought.
This was the key finding of a paper in Biological Conservation led by Green Fire Science student James Allan. and an international team from The University of Queensland, Wildlife Conservation Society University of Northern British Columbia and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Read the full publication here! And article in The Conversation here!
They looked at how human pressures (using the updated global Human Footprint) such as roads, agriculture, urbanisation and industrial infrastructure, along with forest loss, have changed inside Natural World Heritage sites over the last two decades.
They found that the Human Footprint has increased in 63 per cent of Natural World Heritage Sites across all continents except Europe over the past two decades.
The most impacted Natural World Heritage Sites were found in Asia including: Manas Wildlife Sanctuary in India, Komodo National Park in Indonesia, and Chitwan National Park in Nepal; along with Simien National Park in Ethiopia.
In terms of forest loss, highly impacted parks included Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras, which suffered 365 km2 (8.5 percent) of deforestation since 2000.
Even celebrated locations like Yellowstone were impacted, losing approximately six per cent of its forests.
Meanwhile, Waterton Glacier International Peace Park - crossing the Canadian and USA border - lost almost one quarter of its forested area (23 per cent or 540 km2).
These findings are incredibly concerning. It is clearly time for the global community to stand up and hold governments to account so that they take the conservation of Natural World Heritage Sites seriously.
Urgent intervention is needed to save these places and their outstanding natural value for the whole of humanity.
The work has gathered a lot of media attention with some notable pieces in The Guardian, Yale 360 and The Huffington Post.