There are many different ideas about what qualifies as an important site for nature. Should we focus on globally threatened species on the IUCN Red List? Should we be concerned about those species with small ranges, which are more susceptible to extinction due to habitat loss? Should we instead focus on untouched wildernesses or threatened ecosystems? What about places where hundreds or even millions of animals come together for breeding or for food, often creating an incredible spectacle? Or the most irreplaceable and unique sites?
These are all important targets for conservation, but until recently were not considered collectively. In 2016, all that changed when the global conservation community came together and agreed on a common approach to identifying important sites for nature – Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), whose criteria capture all of the different ideas mentioned above.
Once this approach had been developed, 13 of the world’s leading conservation institutions, including BirdLife International, came together to form the KBA Partnership. Its aim is simple: to map, monitor and conserve the most important places for life on earth. As part of this, we have launched a brand new website which currently holds data on more than 16,000 KBAs. Every single site has information on their location, boundaries, and the species and biodiversity for which they are important.
The website also explains how people can propose new KBAs and the criteria used to assess them, as well as how they are being used by governments, business, donors and the conservation community. It provides guidelines on how businesses should act when working in or near KBAs, and how KBAs are being recognised as critical habitat by a growing number of safeguarding standards. The website provides free access to the World Database of KBAs and at-a-glance summaries via our interactive dashboard (which can be set to a global, regional or national scale). More detailed queries can be answered by the Map Search option, which enables a user to select KBAs for particular species groups, regions and countries.
Global assessments of biodiversity patterns are useful, but most political decisions for nature conservation take place nationally, and this is why vital habitats need to be identified at a national level. If sites are to be protected by law and recognised as important, they need to be incorporated in their country’s policies. Because of this, KBAs are identified using local data and a bottom-up process. KBA National Coordination Groups are currently being established in several countries around the world and undertaking national assessments of their KBAs. There is a growing worldwide interest in establishing these groups thanks to the advantages of using a globally-recognised standard for identifying important sites for biodiversity. Our challenge is to support each of them to efficiently identify and conserve their country’s KBAs.
Meanwhile, groups that focus on particular species are updating KBA assessments around the globe. For example, the Amphibian Survival Alliance is currently assessing numerous KBAs for amphibians, while IUCN is identifying sites for freshwater species in different parts of the world. The website provides useful information to support national KBA assessments, along with tools to help KBA proposers map and assess potential sites online.
The recent UN Biodiversity Summit provided an unprecedented opportunity for governments, business and conservation leaders to shine a spotlight on KBAs, which were presented at the ‘Nature for Life hub’ on Monday 28th September 2020. Going forward, KBAs must form a core component of the next thirty-year plan for biodiversity that the global community is currently developing.
Over the next decade, every government should make it a priority to ensure KBAs are identified, mapped and conserved in order to complete a blueprint of the world’s most important sites for nature. Such a blueprint would not only provide a useful guide on where to prioritise conservation action, but should also guide infrastructure development, urban and agricultural expansion, and where businesses operate. The new KBA website and database will ensure that all data on this blueprint is compiled in one place and made freely available to guide planning and investment at a global, regional and national level.
To find out more visit www.keybiodiversityareas.org