Landmark study finds conservation efforts are crucial in halting biodiversity loss

Loggerhead Sea Turtle © CC / Matt Kieffer


A major study published in the journal Science, and co-authored by scientists from ERF grantee partners Birdlife International and the Zoological Society of London, presents compelling evidence that conservation efforts are not only effective but crucial in halting and reversing biodiversity loss.

In the first study of its kind, international researchers spent 10 years reviewing 665 trials of conservation measures, some from as far back as 1890, in different countries, oceans and across species types. Unlike many previous studies, which focused on individual conservation projects, this meta-analysis evaluated the collective impact of various conservation interventions over time.

Mike Hoffmann, co-author and head of wildlife recovery, Zoological Society of London noted that; “The major advance of this study is its sheer weight of evidence. We can point to specific examples, such as how captive breeding and reintroductions have facilitated the return of scimitar-horned oryx to the wild in Chad, but these can feel a bit exceptional. This study draws on more than 650 published cases to show that conservation wins are not rare. Conservation mostly works—unfortunately, it is also mostly significantly under-resourced.”

The conservation measures were found to have had a positive effect in two out of every three cases. The study underscored the effectiveness of diverse interventions, including protected area management, invasive species control, sustainable ecosystem management, and habitat restoration.

Examples of success highlighted in the study include:

  • In the Congo Basin, deforestation was 74% lower in logging concessions under a Forest Management Plan (FMP) compared with concessions without.
  • Management of invasive native predators on two of Florida’s barrier islands, Cayo Costa and North Captiva, resulted in an immediate and substantial improvement in nesting success by Loggerhead Turtles and Least Terns, especially compared with other barrier islands where no predator management was applied.
  • Protected areas and Indigenous lands were shown to significantly reduce both deforestation rate and fire density in the Brazilian Amazon. Outside reserve perimeters, deforestation was 1.7 to 20 times higher and human-caused fires occurred four to nine times more frequently.

Stuart Butchart, co-author and chief scientist at BirdLife International noted; “Recognising that the loss and degradation of nature is having consequences for societies worldwide, governments recently adopted a suite of goals and targets for biodiversity conservation. This new analysis is the best evidence to date that conservation interventions make a difference, slowing the loss of species’ populations and habitats and enabling them to recover. It provides strong support for scaling up investments in nature in order to meet the commitments that countries have signed up to.”

In 2022, almost 200 countries signed the Global Biodiversity Framework, agreeing to halt the decline in nature by the end of the decade. They set a target of mobilising at least $200bn (£160bn) per year from public and private sources. However, while figures may vary, it was estimated in 2020 that only $121bn a year is currently being invested in conservation worldwide.

The study also highlights the evolving nature of the effectiveness of conservation efforts, suggesting that continuous learning and improvement are key. ERF are proud to fund interventions that are proving to be successful over time, including the creation and management of protected areas, removing invasive species, and habitat restoration. To date, we have granted £40.55 million of funding towards 43 organisations in 31 countries.

In a world grappling with environmental challenges, this study offers a beacon of hope. It reaffirms the efficacy of conservation actions in safeguarding biodiversity and underscores the imperative of collective action to preserve our planet’s natural heritage.