21 Feb 2018 Story Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Conserving our planet, hectare by hectare

By Francis Vorhies, Earthmind, and Arthur Eijs, Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management

Scientists and policymakers agree that we need to step up efforts to conserve biodiversity. We need to move beyond legally protected areas, and we need to engage as many actors as possible from different economic sectors.

Fortunately, this is now starting to happen worldwide, following a call from the Convention on Biological Diversity, which in its Strategic Plan and Aichi Targets calls for the implementation of ”other effective area-based conservation measures”, or OECMs.

Such “other measures” play an important role in complementing legally protected areas, often in the places where we live and work. They also provide a unique opportunity to recognize and encourage the biodiversity commitments of individuals, communities and companies in the context of their own lives, social needs and economic activities. We desperately need this kind of encouragement and engagement.

The growing number of voluntary initiatives, however, requires the need to ensure transparency and accountability so that commitments can be shared and successes celebrated.

The Tullstorp Stream restoration project in southern Sweden aims to improve the living conditions for fauna and flora in intensively cultivated farmland and reduce eutrophication of the Baltic Sea.  © VCA Registry

The Verified Conservation Areas (VCA) Programme offers a global, public registry of voluntary commitments to area-based conservation by individuals, communities and companies. The instrument has been developed with long-term financial support from The Netherlands and is now being implemented internationally.

The registry details measures taken and any achievements, while respecting the voluntary nature of such efforts.

It provides opportunities for exchange, learning and benchmarking. It can showcase the use of one, or several area-based conservation measures, and/or provide a simple standard for communicating and sharing what has been done in a given area to achieve biodiversity outcomes.

The VCA Programme aims to encourage actors not yet involved in sustainable land management to register their pledges for saving the planet. The register currently documents nearly 19 areas worldwide - almost 450,000 hectares (nearly twice the size of Luxembourg) in all.

Villager at the Nanga Lauk Village Forest in the Borneo region of Indonesia. The Voluntary Conservation Area forms part of the Embaloh peat swamp and peatland landscape complex around Danau Sentarum National Park. © VCA Registry

In the Netherlands, for example, several schemes are piloting the voluntary conservation approach and sharing their biodiversity conservation actions. One example is Lizard Lane, a 15-hectare area managed by drinking water company Vitens. The company values ecosystem services like the filtering and capturing of water as the basis of its business.

Another example is the so-called BEE landscape, a 20,000-hectare area in the western part of the country, where multinationals Heineken and AKZO Nobel are working with five municipalities, including Leiden, and with the province of South Holland, to restore the ecological quality of the landscape for pollinators. Field margins, gardens, city parks, farms – everybody is encouraged to use indigenous plant species to attract pollinators. And everybody shares in the wonderful feeling of ”doing good”.

Several new voluntary conservation areas will be registered early in 2018. These will join a growing voluntary community around biodiversity conservation, based on enthusiasm and the sharing and celebration of small steps that together deliver positive biodiversity results.

Indeed,”other effective area-based conservation measures” have an important role to play, globally, in achieving our biodiversity objectives. For these measures to be successful, they need to be field-tested; they need to allow for new and relatively inexperienced actors to engage; and they need to show how economic and social development can go hand in hand with biodiversity values. Most importantly, they need to be action-oriented. The time for talking is over, it’s time to act! The Verified Conservation Areas Programme can help ensure that such measures are recognized and deliver.


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