More than 100 World Heritage sites could be damaged beyond repair by human activity
More than 100 World Heritage sites could be damaged beyond repair if urgent action isn't taken to protect them.
World Heritage sites are designated by the UN as places of outstanding universal value which should be protected for future generations.
But urbanisation, farming, industry and deforestation are having an increasing impact on them, according to a team of international experts writing in the journal Biological Conservation.
They found the human footprint increased in 63 percent of National World Heritage Sites (NWHS) across all continents except Europe over the past two decades.
The sites which suffered most were in Asia and include the Manas Wildlife Sanctuary in India, and Chitwan National Park in Nepal and Simien National Park in Ethiopia.
The RÃ o PlÃ¡tano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras lost 365 km2 (8.5 percent) of its forest since 2000.
Simien National Park in Ethiopia
Yellowstone National Park in the US lost six percent of its forests while the Waterton Glacier International Peace Park that straddles the Canadian/ US border lost almost one quarter of its forested area (23 percent or 540 km2).
Urgent intervention is clearly needed to save these places
Prof James Allan
Dr. James Watson, also of Queensland University and Wildlife Conservation Society, said: "Any place that is listed as a World Heritage site is a globally important asset to all of humanity.
"The world would never accept the Acropolis being knocked down, or a couple of pyramids being flattened for housing estates or roads, yet right now, across our planet, we are simply letting many of our natural World Heritage sites be severely altered."
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Yellowstone National Park in the USA
Lead author Prof James Allan, also of Queensland, said: "World Heritage natural sites should be maintained and protected fully.
"For a site to lose ten or twenty percent of its forested area in two decades is alarming and must be addressed."
The study provides useful baseline guide for future monitoring and protection.
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Chitwan National Park in Nepal
It also calls on the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, which meets annually to review the status of World Heritage properties globally, to undertake further action to safeguard natural sites in particular.
Prof Allan said: "It is time for the global community to stand up and hold governments to account so that they take the conservation of natural World Heritage sites seriously.
"We urge the World Heritage Committee to immediately assess the highly threatened sites we have identified.
"Urgent intervention is clearly needed to save these places and their outstanding natural universal values."