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Project aims to reduce conservation impacts of climate change on protected areas in West Africa

20 March 2012 Kent, University of

How to mitigate the conservation impacts of climate change on protected areas in West Africa is the focus of new research by the universities of Kent and Durham.  

The Global Environment Facility-funded project, which involves Dr Bob Smith at the University of Kent’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE), will measure how well different species within West Africa’s national parks and wildlife reserves are currently protected, and how this will change when species start changing their distribution in response to climate change. The specific role of Dr Smith and his team will be to identify where new protected areas and corridors could be developed to conserve these species for the century ahead, while minimising impacts on local people. 

The work is led by the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and will utilise newly available regional climate data and projections from the Met Office Hadley Centre, and species and protected area data collected by UNEP-WCMC, BirdLife International and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). 

The geographic scope of the project, known as PARCC (Protected Areas Resilient to Climate Change), covers the whole of West Africa but will focus on Chad, Gambia, Mali, Sierra Leone and Togo, and will involve working with partner organisations in each country. DICE will also help train people from these countries so that they can use the conservation planning systems that they help develop. 

Dr Smith explained the urgent need for this project. He said: ‘Climate change is likely to have a large impact on protected areas in West Africa but we currently have little information on which species will be most affected. This work will show which species are most vulnerable and let governments and conservation groups identify where they would be best protected in the future.’ 

He also explained that there are a number of geographical features that reduce the impacts of climate change, either because they are naturally cooler than the surrounding landscape or because they provide natural corridors that species can use to move to more suitable areas. ‘Fortunately, these features are relatively easy to map from elevation and landcover data,’ he said. ‘So this project will also measure how well these gorges, north-facing slopes and corridors are protected.’ 

DICE, which is part of the University's School of Anthropology and Conservation, has a strong focus on capacity building and research that informs action on the ground, so the PARCC project fits well with its conservation mission.

The project ‘Protected Areas Resilient to Climate Change’ will run until 2015.