Protected mountains

Posted: 9 May 2008

About one third of the total area of the world's protected areas, including national parks and nature reserves, are in mountains. One reason is the large number of endemic and threatened species (see: Wildlife hotspots).

Arenal volcano, Arenal National Park, Costa Rica
Arenal volcano, Arenal National Park, Costa Rica
Arenal volcano, Arenal National Park, Costa Rica ©Costarican National Chamber of Tourism

The high cultural diversity of mountain areas also offers good opportunities for joint maintenance of cultural and biological diversity, with the direct involvement of local people in park management. Many mountains are key attractions for tourism and recreation, and have been protected at least partially to ensure these benefits.

  • A significant proportion of protected areas designated by UNESCO are in mountains: a third of the natural or mixed World Heritage sites, and about half of the biosphere reserves. There are also about 100 cultural World Heritage sites in mountains.

  • 60 per cent of Costa Rica's area above 1,000 metres is protected as international or national parks, forest, indigenous, or biological reserves, wildlife refuges, or national monuments. 89 per cent of this is forest.

  • The Serro do Mar corridor stretches 1,300 kilometres along the southeastern coast of Brazil. At its core are 14 protected areas, of which 11 are smaller than 100,000 hectares and 7 that are smaller than 10,000 hectares. 30 million people live within an hour's drive of the corridor's forests.

  • The Alps contain 300 protected areas more than 100 hectares in size, managed by over 3,000 staff. These protected areas cover 15 per cent of the area of the Alps.

  • 26 per cent of Bhutan's area is covered by protected areas, including three adjacent national parks, Royal Manas, Black Mountains, and Jingme Dorji. These protect the country's major ecosystems from moist tropical forests, through temperate forests, to alpine ecosystems, glaciers, and peaks over 7,000 metres high.

  • Established in 1974, the largest mountain protected area is Greenland National Park, which has an area of 972,000 square kilometres (97 million hectares) - an area larger than France and Great Britain put together. As such it is the largest national park on Earth. Apart from the wildlife the entire area has no permanent population. Most of the area is covered by the inland icecap, the rest is an intriguing world of fjords, mountains and glaciers.

    View of Kong Oscar Fjord,Greenland National Park© Peter Schmidt Mikkelsen

  • The La Amistad trans-border Biosphere Reserve, in the Talamanca mountains on the border of Panama and Costa Rica, is 1.1 million hectares in areas, It includes the largest area of cloud forest remaining in Central America, with about 10,000 higher plant species, of which over a third are found nowhere else on Earth. It also provides habitat for 400 bird species, 250 reptile and amphibian species, and many species of mammals, including six species of tropical cats.

  • The Yellowstone to Yukon initiative would link protected areas along 3,200 kilometres of the Rocky Mountains, including the traditional territory of 31 native American groups.

  • Scotland declared its first national park, including Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, in 2002, and a second - the largest in the UK - in the Cairngorms, in September 2003.

    Primary sources:

    Hamilton, L.S. (2002) Conserving mountain biodiversity in protected areas. In C. Körner and E.M. Spehn (eds) Mountain biodiversity: A global assessment. Parthenon, London: 295-306.

    Thorsell, J. and L.S. Hamilton (2004) A global overview of mountain protected areas on the World Heritage List. In D. Harmon and G.L. Worboys (eds) Managing Mountain Protected Areas: Challenges and responses for the 21st Century. Andromeda, Colledara: 10-24.

    Kollmair, M., G.S. Gurung, K. Hurni, D. Maselli (2005) Mountains: Special places to be protected? An analysis of worldwide nature conservation efforts in mountains. International Journal of Biodiversity Science and Management 1: 181-190.

    Links:

    UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre

    IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, Mountain theme

    UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme

    Compiled by Dr Martin Price, Director of the Centre for Mountain Studies at Perth College, within Scotland's UHI Millennium Institute, 'creating the University of the Highlands and Islands'.