What is a conservation area?

5 min read

Loziba Wilderness
Image: Loziba. Taken by Grant Fowlds, 2022.


“The future of life on Earth depends on our efforts to nurture and protect nature.”

Conservation areas are as much about human welfare as they are about the environment. 

Nature is worth trillions to our global economy. 

Well-managed conservation areas could solve many of the existential problems we face today and protect those businesses and industries that rely on ecosystem services

But only about 15% of the land on earth and 10% of its waters are currently protected.

This is a major problem. We desperately need more conservation areas. 

Here’s why. 

In this exploration of what conservation areas are and why we need them:

  • What is a conservation area?
  • Why are conservation areas important?
  • What goes into conservation area planning?
  • Do conservation areas work?


What is a conservation area?

Conservation areas are protected spaces that are unique or valuable in some way.

They might be home to a cultural site of interest, a rare species, or an entire ecosystem

In our case, we deal with environmental conservation areas. These are sometimes called conservancies; as are the organisations that manage them. 

Setting up conservation areas is often prompted by the presence of a threat that needs to be reduced or managed. 

The key threat that we face at Rewilding Africa is the encroachment of human settlements into parks and the resulting conflict with local wildlife. This is a common one across the globe. 


5 reasons why conservation areas are important

Conservation areas are a crucial tool in our fight for survival. And it’s not just about saving a particular animal or species. 

Here’s why. 

1. They protect biodiversity and ecosystem resilience

Humans have brought forward the sixth mass extinction in our planet’s history by a few million years. (A “mass extinction” describes losing about ¾ of all species in a geologically short space of time). 

Considering that this has only happened five times in over 540 million years and that we’ve caused the next one, the reality of our impact on the environment hits pretty hard.

Biodiversity in our environment is crucial to retain healthy ecosystems and plentiful resources. 

We need healthy ecosystems to:

  • Eat and drink 
  • Stay safe from disease
  • Make money
  • Fight climate change

Let’s delve into these in more detail. 


2. They keep us safe by containing disease 

“A growing body of scientific evidence shows that the felling of tropical forests creates optimal conditions for the spread of mosquito-borne scourges, including malaria and dengue. Primates and other animals also spread disease from cleared forests to people.”

It’s estimated that about 60% of infectious diseases have zoonotic origins

The research is clear: protecting nature keeps us safe.

With the rapid decline in wildlife populations has come a fast incline in wildlife-human disease transmission. The latest one threw the entire planet into lockdown.

When our activities force animals and people closer together, each is more likely to become stressed and unwell, providing the perfect conditions for disease


3. They protect critical revenue streams 

“$44 trillion of economic value generation – over half the world’s total GDP – is moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services and, as a result, exposed to risks from nature loss.”

Conservation is critical to our economy on a local and global scale.

“We need to reset the relationship between humans and nature,” said Dominic Waughray, Managing Director at the World Economic Forum. “Damage to nature from economic activity can no longer be considered an ‘externality’. 

This report shows how exposure to nature loss is both material to all business sectors and is an urgent and non-linear risk to our collective future economic security.”

Not only do some of the largest industries in the world depend on natural products and ecosystem health, but local communities can benefit financially from it too. 

Many conservation areas are ideal for ecotourism and provide employment and revenue streams to people that need it most.

Our projects directly involve communities so that they have a share in the returns and can invest in their futures as well as the future health of the wild spaces around them. 


4. They help maintain food and water sources 

Protected areas help safeguard the biodiversity needed to keep water and food sources in check.

We all need plants and animals to eat. We all need water to drink. 

By taking too much and protecting too little of the supplies we have, we stand to run out quickly. In fact, we’re already using around 25% more resources than the planet has to sustain us. 


5. They help in the fight against climate change 

Habitats like the oceans, forests, peat bogs, salt marshes, and more store significant amounts of carbon

Mangroves, coral reefs, dunes, and wetlands help stave off flooding.

And our polar regions help keep the planet cool.  

These natural barriers to climate change are degrading fast. Without them, unpredictable weather will cause greater damage, and it will be tougher for us to contain it. 

By protecting these habitats, we can help them retain their buffer against the impacts of climate change. 


Do conservation areas work?

Absolutely. We wouldn’t be here if they didn’t.

In this study, researchers investigated how many bird and mammal extinctions were prevented by conservation action:

“Our results indicate that the extinction of at least 28–48 bird and mammal species was prevented between 1993–2020, and of 11–25 bird and mammal species between 2010–2020. 

At the same time, 15 confirmed or strongly suspected bird and mammal extinctions were documented since 1993, including one since 2010. 

Hence the number of extinctions would have been at least 2.9–4.2 times higher for 1993–2020, and 12–26 times higher for 2010–2020. 

Our counterfactual analyses therefore provide a strikingly positive message that conservation has substantially reduced extinction rates for birds and mammals.”


We know they can and have been successful.

But when it comes to conservation area impact, it’s quality that matters – not quantity.


“Protected areas have a critical role to play in tackling the global nature crisis. 

However, their success in helping to halt and reverse biodiversity loss depends not just on how big they are or where they are placed, but also critically on their effective and equitable governance and management, as well as how they are integrated into wider landscapes and seascapes.”



That’s why our strategy at Rewilding Africa combines our project planning and management skills with the strength and passion of local communities. 

With our management experience and their deeper, instinctual understanding of the wild landscapes around them, we will produce successful, sustainable conservation areas. 

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