Clare Lewis

I have diverse research interests around the central theme of biodiversity conservation and its relationship with society, and an interest in applying interdisciplinary approaches to understanding this subject. I completed my undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences (Zoology) at the University of Cambridge and then went on to study a Master’s in Environment, Politics and Development from SOAS (University of London). Prior to starting this PhD, I also worked for two years at the UK Department for International Development, where I worked on issues such as humanitarian relief and countering illicit financial flows.


PhD project [ongoing]: Contribution of conservation areas outside formal protected areas to biodiversity conservation and sustainable development

While formal protected areas remain a cornerstone of present-day conservation practice, other forms of area-based conservation management, such as community-based governance approaches and private ownership, are increasingly embraced. Such approaches are seen as a way of facilitating landscape approaches to conservation, which aim to mainstream conservation objectives into the wider landscape and promote structural and functional connectivity between existing protected areas. This move towards landscape conservation approaches can be seen in the inclusion of “other effective area-based conservation measures” (OECMs) in national area-based conservation targets in 2010 (as part of Aichi Target 11 of the Strategic Plan on Biodiversity 2011-2020 adopted through the Convention on Biological Diversity, and in Sustainable Development Goal 15). OECMs can be understood as sites outside protected areas that generate positive biodiversity outcomes, regardless of governance or management intentions.


Despite efforts to systematize and aggregate knowledge on these conservation areas outside formal protected areas, important knowledge gaps remain. No comprehensive global, regional or national datasets of such areas exist, and systematic information on their management regimes, governance structures, socio-political and geographic characteristics is lacking. Further, attempts at systematization and aggregation is challenged in some cases by poorly defined and dynamic boundaries of conservation areas and by the dynamic nature of their governance arrangements. There is therefore increasing emphasis on gathering information about the extent of such conservation areas (e.g. World Database on Protected Areas) and their possible overlap with areas of biodiversity importance such as Key Biodiversity Areas (see e.g.


Furthermore, generalizable conclusions regarding the contribution of conservation areas to biodiversity conservation and sustainable development are evasive. This is, among other reasons, because research on the contribution of such areas to the protection of biodiversity and sustainable development appears divided between approaches favoring quasi-experimental approaches and statistical modes of analysis, and approaches favoring ethnographic case studies. While the former applies existing systematized and aggregated datasets and assesses the impacts of policies on pre-determined outcomes through statistical analysis, the latter emphasizes the varied and contextual nature of both policies and outcomes.

In response to these issues, the PhD project will:

  1. Collect and examine data on the location, extent, governance arrangements and other characteristics of conservation areas outside formal protected areas from various international and national databases and other sources, with a focus on South African biospheres. Assess eligibility of sites against the OECM criteria.
  2. Assess the contribution of various conservation areas outside formal protected areas to the protection of biodiversity and sustainable development through a mixed methods approach that exploits existing systematized and aggregated datasets (e.g. on Key Biodiversity Areas, species distributions, ecoregions, and remote sensing data) as well as on-the-ground ethnographic field work, with an aim to assess the contribution they make to biodiversity conservation, their effectiveness in mitigating biodiversity loss, and the relative importance and effectiveness of different types of governance and management arrangements.
  3. Review the literature on governance arrangements for and contributions of conservation areas outside formal protected areas to biodiversity conservation and sustainable development, with aim of understanding the different political and economic drivers that lead to positive conservation outcomes in these sites.
  4. Investigate the process of OECM policy development and implementation to understand how the policy interacts with other national and international policy agendas; how the policy reflects the changing nature of conservation and attitudes to the relationship between nature and society; and the potential consequences the policy could have for sustainable development outcomes.


The results of the PhD study may contribute to the work of the IUCN WCPA Task Force on OECMs and will inform the development of methods for identifying, documenting and delineating OECMs in the future.


Academic Host

University of Copenhagen
Copehnagen, Denmark
Jens Friis Lund
Mattias Borg Rasmussen Supervisor


UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre
Cambridge, UK
Naomi Kingston
WCMC Europe Brussels, Belgium
Elise Belle
BirdLife International
Cambridge, UK
Stu Butchart
Paul F. Donald Collaborator