India needs a biodiversity strategy that includes conserving places where people and wildlife coexist, says a new study. Only 15% of India’s most important conservation areas are covered by protected areas, a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Sustainability recommends.
The study entitled “Prioritizing India’s landscapes for biodiversity, ecosystem services and human well-being” has suggested a balance between the development and conservation of ecologically vulnerable areas.
The study says that India needs a strategy in which land distribution is done in the right way. Where both people and biodiversity share space and land, as seen in protected areas.
Scientists have identified the areas most in need of protection, including those with prime and rare habitats. The researchers call for providing vital ecosystem services such as carbon and water.
15% covered by protected areas
Importantly, only 15 per cent of the top 30 per cent priority sites, which included all three conservation themes, fall within the current protected area network, the researchers said, while the majority of the sites were dominated by people.
Such delimitation emphasizes the need for the conservation of habitats that include areas shared between humans and wildlife.
Uma Ramakrishnan and Arjun Srivathsa of the National Center for Biological Sciences, Chakravarti Jagdish Krishnaswamy of the Indian Institute of Human Settlements and Stotra noted that only 15 per cent of terrestrial habitats and seven per cent of oceans are under any form of legal protection.
He said that traditional conservation paradigms and practices revolve around such land use, but are limited and increasingly reduced to empty spaces. Reimagining conservation by adding land sharing to include and protect shared spaces between people and biodiversity.
Future of India’s rich biodiversity
In the study, scientists have measured the threats to different ecosystems. Urban hotspots are highest among major cities and agricultural areas in the northern semi-arid region, with the Terai plains in northeastern India and the western and southern parts of the Deccan peninsula ranking first in terms of pressure demographic.
The development aspirations of a developing economy and climate change pose new challenges for the future of India’s rich biodiversity. While preserving India’s biodiversity is important globally, it is also important to the millions of Indians who depend on it for their livelihoods.
The study has recommended a participatory approach to protect such a large area under rich biodiversity.
Maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services
The researchers found that the boundaries of 338 districts play an important role in maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services. Of these, 169 have been listed as high-priority districts, where natural habitat, biodiversity and ecosystem services are at an optimal level and spread over a large area.
This, according to the study, would require prioritizing large infrastructure projects while promoting a similar model of nature conservation in addition to demarcating protected areas.
Seventy-two districts overlap with NITI Ayog’s aspirational districts, where land use needs to be carefully planned, the scientists said.
“This will require deprioritizing infrastructure megaprojects while promoting equitable models of nature protection in addition to the demarcation of protected areas. Such approaches may involve community stewardship for biodiversity protection, co-management of habitats outside protected areas, and the development of nature-friendly livelihoods within larger conservation landscapes,” the study said.
“In India, this can be achieved by implementing existing frameworks, for example where communities are granted Community Forest Rights, and by declaring areas as Critical Wildlife Habitats under the Forest Rights Act, provisions that, at present, remain grossly underused.”
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