The need for a global database on conservation planning

Given international policy targets and growing recognition of a biodiversity crisis, the number and total extent of protected areas is set to increase significantly in the next few decades. To ensure this planned expansion is effective in halting biodiversity loss, it is critical that new protected areas (and other conservation actions) are well designed and effectively implemented.

Systematic conservation planning (SCP), which takes into account ecological and socioeconomic aspects of conservation, is regarded as best practice for identifying conservation priorities and has been widely used to design protected area systems. Applications of SCP cover terrestrial, freshwater and marine realms, including planning initiatives in developed and developing countries across the world.

Over the last three decades, hundreds of SCP studies have been produced, yet there is no structured or reliable way of finding information on SCP methods, trends, and progress. This rapid growth in SCP literature inhibits distillation of best practices and understanding of trends in methods and applications. Furthermore, bridging the well-recognized gap between SCP research and implementation requires systematic and continuous monitoring of plan development and implementation.

The Conservation Planning Database project aims to create a global database to help track the development, implementation, and impact of SCP applications, and improve scholarship in the field. Consolidating a global database can play a critical role in advancing SCP theory and practice, thus facilitating more effective area-based conservation initiatives with real benefits for biodiversity and human well-being.

Database Applications

The database provides a platform to systematically compile and provide access to key information about SCP initiatives and thus contribute to exchanging scientific advice, best practices, tools, and lessons learned. The database aims to facilitate standardized reporting to increase transparency, consistency, and comparability of information, including repeatable methods and justification of planning decisions.


  • Access information on trends and statistics in the use of data, methods, and applications
  • Identify geographic and thematic coverage and gaps
  • Synthesize information about planning approaches and rationale for methodological choices
  • Develop best practices and planning principles

Conservation Practitioners

  • Find previous conservation planning exercises within a region
  • Learn from plans developed in similar contexts and build on associated expertise
  • Track progress from the design through to implementation phases
  • Find technical guidance to support new planning initiatives to expand protected areas in strategic and effective ways

Editors & Reviewers

  • Assess whether studies have covered important literature and developments
  • Assess whether studies have followed best practices for documenting conservation planning exercises


  • Identify regions where further work should be prioritized

Information included in the database

We documented exercises that have followed a systematic conservation planning approach (Pressey and Bottrill 2009) to guide the spatial allocation of limited resources to achieve explicit conservation objectives, and more recently, social and economic objectives. A key component of SCP is spatial prioritization, which involves locating and configuring conservation areas, generally aiming for cost-efficient designs.

We included exercises that met the following four criteria:

  1. Define explicit conservation objectives, but can include social and economic objectives;
  2. Identify spatially explicit conservation areas (i.e. places where some form of spatially explicit management – from strict reservation to off-reserve management – is undertaken to contribute to defined objectives), sometimes associated with actions;
  3. Identify marine conservation areas (including coastal ecosystems) and/or terrestrial or freshwater conservation areas that can have downstream benefits on marine ecosystems (i.e. explicit marine conservation objectives). For example, protect forest areas against erosion to maintain water quality in marine areas; thus, configuration of terrestrial conservation areas reflect marine considerations; and
  4. Prioritized spatially using some form of optimization that accounted for complementarity between priority conservation areas and/or actions. This means that plans will necessarily use existing (e.g. C-Plan, Marxan, Zonation) or custom-made (e.g. linear/nonlinear programming, genetic algorithms) decision-support tools.

The prototype currently contains 115 database fields and includes information on planning goals and objectives, geographic scope and location, targeted features, methods and decision-support tools, planning units, threats to features, stakeholder participation, planning outputs, and approaches to incorporating ecological connectivity, climate change, and socioeconomic considerations.

Marine conservation planning proof-of-concept

The marine proof-of-concept database is the most comprehensive and systematic compilation of marine SCP studies to date, thus providing a unique opportunity for scientists to access and analyse further aspects of marine planning. It provides a full and consistent coverage of the primary literature on marine SCP, and constitutes an important step towards the development of a centralized repository of key information on planning exercises worldwide.

Designed to facilitate the documentation of SCP exercises in general, the database can be easily adapted to include terrestrial and freshwater SCP applications. The prototype works as a stand-alone tool, but its functionality can be extended through links with other databases that provide information relevant to planning (e.g., World Database on Protected Areas).

Through this website, users can query the database and retrieve reports according to key metadata fields including: organization, date, type of plans, geographic scope, targeted environments (and features), goals and objectives, stakeholder participation levels, outputs, and several methodological aspects of planning (e.g. planning units, connectivity, climate change, socioeconomic factors).