Usually, there are no restrictions that are specifically related to KBA status, although some countries are now introducing conservation measures for KBAs. It is important to check on the local situation, which may also change. KBA identification is a voluntary process and may or may not be recognised by a government. What happens in a KBA depends on national and sometimes local policies, laws, and regulations. Some may be designated in whole or in part as a protected area, in which case relevant national and international restrictions on operations in a protected area apply; others are recognised territories of indigenous people (in some cases KBA recognition has helped indigenous people settle land claims). Outside those places, sites will be subject to relevant national laws, regulations, and policies (e.g. on land-use planning, Environmental Impact Assessments/Strategic Impact Assessments, access to information). KBAs can be a tool to help companies, local and national governments, and communities to act responsibly, support the persistence of biodiversity, avoid damage to biodiversity and ecosystem services, and avoid economic losses and risk.
Most governments have not yet officially recognised KBAs through legislation or regulations, and in those cases there are no legal requirements for businesses. It is important for companies to check with local and national governments in all cases before beginning a project. However, government engagement may change in the future, and there is already an emerging policy framework around KBAs. In a few cases – such as in Turkey and the Philippines – KBAs already have some measure of official recognition, and a growing number of countries are actively identifying KBAs.
The European Union Natura 2000 sites are often based on Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas, the subset of KBAs for birds. Most governments have not generally set policies for how KBAs should be managed, although they are starting to be recognised in national policies. Some governments are linking creation of future protected areas to KBAs, although not all KBAs will be in protected areas. In the future, governments may also recognise Other Effective Area-Based Conservation Mechanisms (OECMs) or ecologically sensitive areas (e.g., watersheds or protective forests) within KBAs, which may also lead to legal restrictions on use.
Furthermore, KBAs also often meet the critical habitat definitions in the International Finance Corporation’s Performance Standard 6, and the World Bank’s Environmental and Social Framework, which an increasing number of governments are following; thus, despite a lack of legal or regulatory requirements, more and more governments and companies will need to address impacts on KBAs to be in compliance with these policies.
There is a central KBA dataset, the World Database of Key Biodiversity Areas (WDKBA) managed on behalf of the KBA Partnership by BirdLife International. For commercial use it is accessible through IBAT for Business, which is a tool specifically developed for commercial use that includes information on KBAs and protected areas around the world.
The WDKBA currently hosts data on global and regional KBAs, including Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas, Alliance for Zero Extinction sites (which represent the only remaining location for a Critically Endangered or Endangered species), KBAs identified through hotspot ecosystem profiles supported by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, and a small number of other KBAs. The KBA Partnership is working to apply the KBA Standard and expand the taxonomic, geographic, and ecosystem comprehensiveness of the global KBA dataset.
Any KBA partner organisation should also be able to provide more detailed information about KBAs in a particular country through expertise and contacts within its own regional and national offices. Given that KBA identification is ongoing, it is important to check regularly on the status of assessment and information about potential KBAs on these websites and also to check within countries with biodiversity experts who may be able to advise on whether a site deserves KBA status.
Getting management right in KBAs will be a continuing process of learning; collaboration with like-minded companies can help avoid mistakes and cut costs. The KBA Consultative Forum has been set up to provide input and advice to the KBA Committee on the dissemination and use of KBA data and management of KBAs. The Forum exists to let the KBA Committee know about needs and challenges in use of KBA data and conversely to pass on information about decisions, plans, and progress on the implementation of the KBA programme. The members of the Forum will also advise on potential sources of funding, encourage use of KBA data, provide strategic recommendations, and act as ambassadors for KBAs. Forum members will include national governments, multilateral environmental agreements, international financing organisations, intergovernmental agencies, indigenous peoples’ organisations, and NGOs.
Information on the particular elements (e.g. threatened species, rare ecosystems, spawning aggregations, ecological refugia) that triggered KBA identification can be accessed through the World Database on Key Biodiversity Areas. Information on the biodiversity elements that qualify a site as a KBA is generally available through IBAT (for commercial users), but usually not the details on where these elements can be found within a KBA. This functionality is a priority for future development.
Other global datasets, such as the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems and the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, can provide additional information on ecosystems or species triggering the KBA criteria. KBA partner organisations may be able to help with information if they are working in or near the KBA. There are other potential sources of information, including local and national governments, universities, national and international NGOs, and local natural history organisations. To find out about such organisations, please contact KBA National Coordination Groups where these exist.
It should be noted first that KBAs are not necessarily priorities for any particular kind of conservation action such as protected area creation, even if they are sites of importance for the global persistence of biodiversity. Some KBAs are remote or otherwise not threatened and may only require occasional monitoring. The KBA Standard is an attempt to bring within a single framework most of the existing approaches to identifying important sites for taxonomic, ecological, or thematic subsets of biodiversity (e.g. IBAs, Alliance for Zero Extinction sites, Important Plant Areas, etc.); to consider biodiversity comprehensively; to reduce confusion among policy makers; and to provide a detailed source of information on important sites to help inform conservation. KBAs nest heavily within large-scale priority regions, such as Global 200 Eco-regions or Biodiversity Hotspots, that have different scales and objectives. They also frequently overlap with areas identified for other kinds of values, such as natural and cultural heritage (e.g. World Heritage Sites) and ecosystem services (e.g. some High Conservation Value Areas). However, it is likely that with time KBAs will be regarded as the most important sites for the safeguard of species and ecosystems on the planet.
See also Questions 7-10.
High Conservation Value Areas (HCVAs) are areas that have particularly high ecological or social values, most commonly used as part of voluntary certification schemes, such as those covering forests and forestry, oil palm, soy, mining, etc. HCVA has six qualitative criteria, covering environmental, social, and cultural issues. KBAs conversely focus solely on biodiversity values and are identified through quantitative thresholds, independent of development plans or certification schemes. KBAs are important for the global persistence of biodiversity, whereas HCVAs often reflect more local values and are identified site-by-site, as the need arises. HCVAs are also generally identified within areas already slated for development, to ensure conservation of critical values; they are also usually fairly small. They are a less formal designation, and there is no global list of HCVA sites.
KBAs and HCVAs inform each other: If development was taking place inside a KBA or on a site that contained a KBA, this would trigger one or more of the HCVA criteria. Further, if an area was identified as a HCVA on biological criteria, it would merit consideration as a KBA (but will not always qualify as a KBA). The existence of a KBA is used in HCVA technical guidance as an indicator of one or more HCVA criteria relating to biodiversity. Many HCVAs will not be KBAs if they are identified on criteria related to social and cultural values or ecosystem services, and not all HCVA sites identified on ecological criteria will qualify as KBAs. Identifying and managing for HCVAs within a recognised certification system might be one of the tools that a company operating in a KBA would use to avoid damaging KBA values.
The International Finance Corporation defines critical habitat as ‘areas with high biodiversity value, including (i) habitat of significant importance to Critically Endangered and/or Endangered species; (ii) habitat of significant importance to endemic and/or restricted-range species; (iii) habitat supporting globally significant concentrations of migratory species and/or congregatory species; (iv) highly threatened and/or unique ecosystems; and/or (v) areas associated with key evolutionary processes (IFC Performance Standard 6). This is not equivalent to the KBA definition, but the two are closely enough aligned that many KBAs will be critical (or natural) habitats. It should be noted that other institutions and countries use the term critical habitat in different ways. For example, in the United States Endangered Species Act (ESA), critical habitat is defined as specific areas, within the geographical area occupied by the species at the time of listing, that contain physical or biological features essential to conservation. A critical habitat based on the ESA in the United States might therefore be equivalent to a KBA in some cases, but not invariably.
EBSAs, or ‘Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas’, are identified and described as part of the work of the Convention on Biological Diversity. EBSAs have seven criteria for identification: (1) uniqueness or rarity; (2) special importance for life history stages of species; (3) importance for threatened, endangered, or declining species and/or habitats; (4) vulnerability, fragility, sensitivity, or slow recovery; (5) biological productivity; (6) biological diversity; and (7) naturalness. These broadly correspond to the KBA criteria but unlike KBAs do not have quantitative thresholds. The identification of EBSAs and the selection of conservation and management measures is a matter for States and competent intergovernmental organisations, in accordance with international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. As KBA identification in marine areas is in its early stages, it is too early to say how the two will correspond. At present, KBAs are generally smaller, except where their boundaries match very large existing marine protected areas, because KBAs are actually or potentially manageable as a single unit. Existing marine KBAs have been influential in identification of EBSAs, and it is expected that with the growing number of KBAs identified at sea, many of them will also be described as EBSAs.
An ecoregion is an ecologically and geographically defined area that contains characteristic, geographically distinct assemblages of natural communities and species, or ‘a recurring pattern of ecosystems associated with characteristic combinations of soil and landform that characterise that region’ (Brunckhorst, 2000). The biodiversity that characterises an ecoregion tends to be distinct. The land surface of the world can be divided into 867 ecoregions, though experts continue to debate the boundaries.
A biodiversity hotspot is a biogeographic region that is a significant reservoir of unique biodiversity that is highly threatened. A hotspot must have at least 1,500 vascular plants as endemics and 30 percent or less of its original natural vegetation. As of today, 35 areas qualify as hotspots.
Endemic Bird Areas are the 218 areas defined to address the conservation needs of over 2,500 bird species that are restricted to an area smaller than 50,000 km2. BirdLife has identified regions of the world where the distributions of two or more of these restricted-range species overlap; these Endemic Bird Areas contain 93 percent of all endemic birds.
Ecoregions, Biodiversity Hotspots, and Endemic Bird Areas, and land-/seascapes containing multiple management units are large-scale biogeographic regions and are not considered to be sites.
Brunckhorst, D. (2000). Bioregional planning: resource management beyond the new millennium. Harwood Academic Publishers: Sydney, Australia
Although some KBAs are very large, such as the Qiangtang in China, covering 298,000 km2, most identified to date range between 1,000 and 100,000 ha. Marine KBAs are usually bigger than terrestrial and freshwater ones due to the distribution of marine organisms and the characteristics of the marine environment. Large KBAs are defined primarily for three reasons: because they contain intact ecosystems, because they hold viable populations of species with large home ranges that can be managed as a single unit, or because their borders are set around an existing protected area. KBAs are sites that are actually or potentially manageable as a single unit, so using the boundaries of large protected areas as KBAs makes sense from a practical perspective, when these sites meet the KBA criteria.
KBAs are currently being identified, so a growing number of operations will find themselves retroactively inside a KBA. A responsible company operating in or close to a KBA would want to see what impact it may have on the biodiversity elements of that KBA and how changes to its existing operations might help conserve or enhance the KBA values, or what restoration opportunities exist to compensate for past impact. A first step would be to determine if the operation overlaps with or impacts (positively or negatively) the values for which the KBA was identified. If so, an obvious response would be to work with relevant experts to investigate ways that management could reduce and reverse negative impacts (see Guideline for Business Activities: Responsibility for existing operations.
The 15 Guidelines apply to operations affecting KBAs, which will not necessarily only be those inside KBAs, but could include those distant from KBAs if they have direct, indirect, or cumulative effects on the KBA. Examples of impacts from more distant operations might include long-distance transport of air or water pollution, while operations adjacent to KBAs might inadvertently open up the KBA to damaging activities through road construction, in-migration of workers, etc., or interrupt ecological connectivity. The expectation is that all such operations will be managed in a way that maintains, and if possible enhances, the values for which the KBA was identified. Impacts may also be cumulative, meaning that apparently minor damage can build up over time to create serious problems.
The KBA Partnership has established a mechanism for appealing KBA identification based on scientific justifications, through the Standards and Appeals Committee (SAC). Challenges would relate to questions about meeting the criteria and the accuracy of data, and cases where the factors for which the KBA was identified have changed (e.g. a geographically restricted species that is subsequently found to have a much wider distribution). Political or economic considerations, however, will not change KBA status.
The thresholds associated with in the KBA Standard’s criteria represent the best judgment of specialists around the world; they are transparent and open to testing as knowledge on biodiversity improves (e.g. our knowledge of most invertebrates remains very limited). For the iconic species that remain the focus of conservation, such as tigers, elephants and gorillas, we often have better information. However, for some taxonomic groups where population data at the global or site scale is lacking, the KBA thresholds can be inferred through metrics such as range, extent of suitable habitat, or area of occupancy. For species that lack even basic information on their distribution, the KBA criteria may not be applicable at the present time. Ecosystems are included amongst the triggering criteria (i.e. threatened or geographically restricted ecosystems); one reason for this is that maintenance of an ecosystem helps to ensure conservation of the species it contains, even if the latter have not been described or studied by scientists, or effectively assessed or monitored. KBAs are pragmatic, established on the basis of best available data, but there will be questions and changes, and this is why there is a mechanism for re-evaluation. It is expected that the criteria and thresholds will be refined in the future on the basis of new experience gathered through the KBA identification process.
In cases where a KBA was triggered for a single species or a unique type of habitat, discovery of new populations, or major recovery of existing populations or habitat elsewhere, might be a legitimate reason to challenge and perhaps remove KBA status. A company could, in theory, support conservation work to increase species or restore ecosystems elsewhere in a way that in the long term meant the area they were working in no longer met the definition of a KBA. Or it could support research to determine more accurate figures for population size and viability. KBA data are meant to be updated every eight-12 years, so there is a mechanism to ensure that changes in knowledge or status of biodiversity elements triggering the KBA criteria are accounted for. However, KBAs are often identified for more than one species or ecosystem, and therefore they are likely to remain KBAs even if one species no longer triggers relevant thresholds. If they are legally protected, this protection status will remain in place and will need to be managed accordingly.
There is no ‘KBA-specific fund’ to help management. However, KBAs are recognised and supported by many donor and lender organisations, including bilateral and multilateral aid organisations, multilateral banks, and NGOs. On the whole, these institutions are reluctant to support commercial organisations in application of what they see as best practice, although they might support best practice in KBA management as part of a wider development project (indeed, lenders may start expecting this as a standard part of best practice). Furthermore, donors may be more willing to support an NGO or a local community group to partner with the operation in taking steps to avoid damage, minimise impacts, introduce restoration, or otherwise enhance KBA values.
Data can be submitted to the KBA Secretariat. The KBA Partnership has developed a central KBA database that has a facility for storing information about sites that meet the KBA criteria. Data can also be used to initiate dialogue with the KBA Partnership. For KBAs in places where data are scarce, it is also important to pass information to researchers, academics, or NGOs in the region, and to global databases such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. (see Guideline for Business Activities: Sharing biodiversity data).
A growing number of companies have partnered with other institutions in their operations on land and in water within KBAs, and this is strongly encouraged. Obvious partners are those affiliated with the existing KBA Partnership, but also include other NGOs active in the region, whether they are local bodies or larger organisations operating in many countries. Local researchers and academics may also be interested. Partners bring expertise in local ecology and management needs. Other potential partners include development agencies, humanitarian agencies (although they may have fewer ecosystem management skills), local communities, indigenous peoples organisations, and governments.
Many successful examples of partnerships exist, but there have also been failures. Partners are likely to come from different starting points and have different priorities, cultures, backgrounds, skill sets, and interests. It takes time to learn to work together, build trust, and discover strengths and weaknesses. Partnerships therefore also help to foster understanding about the potential for sustainable management in both the company and the partner organisation.
For a KBA, the critical data relate to the biodiversity elements triggering KBA criteria, i.e. data on the changes to the population and distribution of qualifying species, the extent and status of ecosystems, or aspects of ecological integrity. So if the KBA was identified for a threatened species, monitoring its population and reproductive success will tell you whether or not management is preserving KBA values. If the biodiversity element is a particular ecosystem, monitoring its area and health will answer the same question, and so on. See Guidelines for Business Activities: Project biodiversity baseline.
Businesses need to be operating responsibly everywhere, and there are many actions on this website that responsible companies should want to implement in any habitat. But KBAs are the most important sites for the global persistence of biodiversity, and the loss of their values can create significant threats to whole species or ecosystems. The stakes are much higher, and there is less room for error and increased reputational risk to the company in operating at these sites. So the 15 Guidelines and the additional information provided on this website focus on those elements that make KBAs important and ways that they can be best managed to maintain their conservation values in perpetuity. Still, most of the Guidelines could also be applied in natural habitats outside KBAs.
It is clearly preferable to have a responsible company operating in a KBA, rather than an irresponsible or careless company. But if this is used as a standard justification for operating in any sensitive site, it in effect removes any voluntary or ethical controls. Furthermore, as KBAs become better recognised, companies that cause damage will attract increasing negative attention and even censure from consumers, media, and financial institutions, with subsequent risks for obtaining investment and to their sales and profitability.
No. KBAs of global significance cover only 3.9 percent of the Earth’s total land and sea surface area (note, however, that coverage of terrestrial area will be much higher), while best conservation practices are needed everywhere. Governments will have identified local areas of conservation value, which may or may not qualify as global KBAs, but are still important from an overall conservation perspective. There is a subset of regional KBAs that reflect regional priorities, currently included in the World Database of Protected Areas, and, in the future, national KBAs might also be identified. Some of these will be in state, community, or privately protected areas, which come with their own restrictions. As KBAs for taxa other than birds have not been identified in many countries, the KBA network will grow in the coming years, particularly in marine and freshwater environments. In any natural area, the precautionary principle should be applied for potentially damaging business operations.
Living or operating in a KBA means you are in a place of especially high biodiversity value, with an ethical and practical responsibility to maintain those values. In KBAs with no legal restrictions, voluntary actions are a personal choice. But businesses are not being singled out, and these guidelines are as relevant for an individual farmer in a KBA as they are for a small tourism company, a large multinational organisation, or a government. There is parallel work going on with local communities, migrants, farmers, and others involved in land management.
Naturally, yes. An ecotourism company that actively supports conservation as part of its business model is likely to have limited impact in a KBA, while conversion of a native forest to an oil palm plantation will likely destroy the KBA values. Broadly speaking, the larger the ecological footprint of the business, the greater the impact. So, large-scale land-use change is amongst the worst impacts, although more localised activities like mining can be equally damaging if they produce widespread pollution. Impacts that lead to other indirect impacts are particularly harmful, for example roads and other linear infrastructure that encourage settlement and illegal logging (and facilitate poaching and wildlife trafficking), or logging that leads to plantation establishment. However, it always depends on where and how much, and on the values for which the KBA was identified, so no simple prescriptions are possible.
This depends largely on the type of biodiversity element for which the KBA has been identified. Restoration is never easy, and in some cases will be practically impossible. Where KBAs have been identified for individual species, populations can sometimes be rebuilt with care and good management; responsible businesses can help this process by, for instance, controlling illegal hunting in their concessions. Ecosystem restoration is much more difficult. Even if an ecosystem is re-created, it will likely be missing species or interactions that occurred previously. For example, scientists in Latin America can detect clear differences between forests that regrew after abandonment by the Maya over a thousand years ago and those that have never been cleared (Terborgh, 1992).
Climate change makes restoration even more difficult [Link to climate change factsheet]. So, while restoration is definitely a tool for KBA management, it is often hard to predict the results and is best applied on already degraded land. The potential for restoration should not be used as a routine excuse for destroying ecosystems of high conservation importance.
See Guidelines for Business Activities: Limits to impact restoration.
Terborgh, J. (1992) Diversity and the Tropical Rain Forest. Scientific American Library, New York
There has been a proliferation of voluntary certification schemes for natural resource management over the past 20 years, covering, amongst others, organic food, forest products, marine food, oil palm, soy, sugar, beef, and biofuels. Many of these relate indirectly to KBAs, or reference High Conservation Value Areas, which are often linked to KBAs. Most certification standards are designed to prevent clearing of natural ecosystems within KBAs, though they do not always succeed. It may well be that in the future certification schemes start mentioning good management of KBAs within their standards. See Guidelines for Business Activities: Compliance with certification schemes and financial institutions safeguard policies