Covid-19 is taking a “severe toll” on conservation efforts, with multiple environmental protections being rolled back, according to research.
Conservation efforts have been reduced in more than half of Africa’s protected areas and a quarter of those in Asia, said the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
And 22 countries are rolling back protection of natural areas.
Protected areas encompass some of the world’s most precious ecosystems.
They include pristine forests, wilderness areas and natural habitat that supports endangered species.
IUCN Director General Dr Bruno Oberle said the new research revealed “how severe a toll the Covid-19 pandemic has taken on conservation efforts and on communities dedicated to protecting nature”.
He added: “Let us not forget that only by investing in healthy nature can we provide a solid basis for our recovery from the pandemic, and avoid future public health crises.”
The research is published in a special edition of an IUCN journal dedicated to areas of the globe protected for nature.
In one paper, researchers looked at government policies on economic recovery put in place between January and October last year that had an impact on the funding and protection of areas for nature.
They identified some positive examples, with 17 countries, such as New Zealand, Pakistan and eight countries within the EU, maintaining or increasing their support for protected and conserved areas.
In contrast, 22 countries had rolled back protections in favour of unsustainable development including road construction or oil and gas extraction in areas designated for conservation.
Rachel Golden Kroner of Conservation International is a co-chair of the IUCN taskforce looking into the impact of Covid-19 on protected areas, and lead researcher on the study.
She told the BBC: “We found that more funding and more of the economic stimulus has gone towards activities that undermine nature rather than that support it, globally. So we’re not yet on the whole moving in the right direction.”
In other papers, researchers found:
Conservation efforts in Africa and Asia were most severely affected. More than half of protected areas in Africa reported that they were forced to halt or reduce field patrols and anti-poaching operations as well as conservation education and outreach. A quarter of protected areas in Asia also reported that conservation activities had been reduced.
The pandemic has affected the livelihoods of protected area rangers and their communities. A survey of rangers in more than 60 countries found that more than one in four rangers had seen their salary reduced or delayed, while 20% reported that they had lost their jobs due to budget cuts. Rangers from Central America and the Caribbean, South America, Africa and Asia were more severely affected than elsewhere.
Follow Helen on Twitter.