10 reasons we should all care about World Heritage Sites (WWF Report, April 2017)
April 24, 2017
To mark World Heritage Day on Tuesday 18 April, our colleagues at WWF released a new report showing that almost half (45%) of the world’s most special places are being plagued by the illegal wildlife trade. World Heritage sites cover about 0.5 per cent of the Earth’s surface and contain some of the planet’s most valuable ecosystems and most threatened species. But they’re not just important for wildlife – they also provide benefits for people and communities worldwide. We are delighted to share the report with you along with their 10 reasons why everyone should care about World Heritage Sites:
Sunrise over Selous: Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania is one of Africa’s largest wilderness areas and one of the most valuable and unique places on the planet. It was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1982 largely for its elephant and black rhinoceros populations. In 2014, Selous was put on UNESCO’s World Heritage in Danger list, mainly due to increased poaching that resulted in a dramatic decline in wildlife populations. There are also industrial threats from mining explorations and planned hydropower dams. In collaboration with the Tanzanian government, Frankfurt Zoological Society and other partners, WWF is working to create a future for Selous that will maintain its natural value, provide a space for nature as well as providing livelihoods and wellbeing for the communities adjacent to it. In Selous’ wildlife corridors WWF works directly with local communities to maintain these vital passages and provide people with sustainable livelihoods.
- They’re not just iconic monuments and buildings. Many people think World Heritage sites are historic landmarks like Stonehenge or the Tower of London. In fact, there are also 203 ‘natural World Heritage sites’ which are places of outstanding natural value, such as the Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef, and the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania.
- They’re incredibly diverse despite only covering 0.5 per cent of the world’s surface. World Heritage sites can be found in almost any kind of landscape you can imagine. From glaciers, fjords, coral reefs, mangrove forests and wetlands, to wildlife sanctuaries, volcanoes, African landscapes and our own coastline here in the UK, the variety of World Heritage is huge.
- They are home to some of the rarest animals on Earth, such as mountain gorillas, African elephants, snow leopards, whales and marine turtles. There are only around 3,900 tigers in the wild globally, and a third of them live in natural World Heritage sites.
- They’re important for people too. More than eleven million people – that’s more than the population of Portugal – rely on World Heritage sites for food, water, shelter and medicine. Also two thirds of sites are important sources of freshwater.
Portrait of George Athanus, wildlife ranger in Selous Game Reserve: George has worked in Selous as a ranger since 1978. His work involves rhino monitoring and anti-poaching patrols.
These precious places are incredibly fragile. Though you might expect these sites to have the best protection in the world, over half of all natural World Heritage sites are under threat from industrial-scale activities. They are in danger of exploitation and irreparable damage from activities including oil and gas exploration, mining and illegal logging.
- They belong to us all. UNESCO states that ‘World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located’. A place can become a World Heritage site if it has ‘outstanding universal value’ to ‘present and future generations of all humanity’.
- They can reduce poverty. Over 90 per cent of all natural World Heritage Sites provide jobs – these are typically locally based and provide local communities with secure and stable incomes.
- They are enjoyed by millions of people around the world. It is estimated the world’s natural protected areas receive 8 billion visits per year through tourism which generates millions of pounds for economies. It’s important that tourism in World Heritage sites is sustainable to safeguard these places for future generations.
- They are helping counter global climate change. It is estimated that 10.5 billion tonnes of carbon is contained within World Heritage forest sites. By ensuring that carbon stocks remain undisturbed, World Heritage sites help to regulate the climate on a local and global scale.
- They are truly spectacular. From Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System to Yellowstone National Park, not to mention our own Jurassic Coast in the UK, natural World Heritage Sites are some of the world’s most stunning landscapes.
Showing just how many people do care about World Heritage sites and want to protect them, WWF’s Save Our Shared Heritage campaign has received over 1 million messages of support.
WWF is one of the world’s largest independent conservation organisations, with more than five million supporters and a global network active in more than one hundred countries. Through engagement with the public, businesses and government, WWF focuses on safeguarding the natural world, creating solutions to the most serious environmental issues facing our planet, so that people and nature thrive. Find out more about WWF’s work, past and present at wwf.org.uk.
You can find out more about INTO’s 2017 World Heritage Day here.