Quantifying the extent of protected area downgrading, downsizing and degazettement in Australia

Carly N Cook, Rebecca S Valkan, Michael Mascia, Melodie McGeoch

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24 Citations (Scopus)


The use of total area protected as the predominant indicator of progress in building protected-area (PA) networks is receiving growing criticism. Documenting the full dynamics of PA networks, both in terms of the gains and losses in protection, provides a much more informative approach to tracking progress. To this end, documentation of protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) has increased. Studies of PADDD events generally fail to place these losses in the context of gains in protection therefore they omit important elements of PA network dynamics. To address this limitation, we used a spatially explicit approach to identify every parcel of land added to and excised from the Australian terrestrial PA network and PAs that had their level of protection changed over 17 years (1997-2014). By quantifying changes in the spatial configuration of the PA network using time series data (spatial layers for nine separate time steps), our study is the first assessment of the dynamics (increases and decreases in area and level of protection) of a PA network, and the first comprehensive assessment of PADDD in a developed country. We reveal a highly dynamic network, with 5,233 changes in area or level of protection over 17 years. Against a background of enormous increases in the area protected, we identified over 1,500 PADDD events, which affected over one-third of the network, largely the result of widespread downgrading of protection. We believe our approach can provide a mechanism for robust tracking of trends in the world’s PAs, using data from the World Database on Protected Areas. However, this will require greater transparency and improved data standards in reporting changes to PAs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1039-1052
Number of pages14
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Biodiversity conservation
  • Conservation planning
  • National parks
  • Nature reserves
  • Spatial analysis

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