Dr Hobson has global roadless areas research published in Science

December 2016

Image for press release
(NOTE: This is an archived press release.)

A leading academic from Writtle University College (WUC) has contributed to important global research which has just been published in the Science journal.

Dr Hobson, Reader in Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainability, is part of an international team of scientists that recently established the Roadless Areas Initiative and over the last two years have been working towards producing global spatial data on roadless areas through crowdsourcing, the OpenStreetMap platform. The findings of the study, which involved the analysis of 36 million kilometres of road data, show that the Earth's surface has been shattered into more than 600 thousand fragments by roads. More than half of the fragments are smaller than 1km2. This is the first time a global map of this kind has been produced and shows how roads introduce many problems to nature. For instance, they interrupt gene flow in animal populations; facilitate the spread of pests and diseases and increase soil erosion and the contamination of rivers and wetlands. Details of the ground breaking research have been published in the high profile publications The National Geographic and The Guardian amongst others.

The study goes on to show that the United Nations' Sustainable Development Agenda, brought into force in 2015 and now referred to as the Sustainable Development Goals, presents conflicts of interest between generating economic growth and safeguarding biodiversity. Some goals threaten the remaining roadless areas. However, limiting road expansion into roadless areas could be the most cost-effective way to achieve Sustainable Development Goals that relate to preserving the world's natural heritage.

A short video sequence produced and narrated by Dr Hobson and his colleague Professor Ibisch, both Directors of the Centre for Econics and Ecosystem Management, accompanies the publication of the Science research paper and the launch of a new website www.roadless.online. The research paper, video and website together with other videos produced by the Centre will contribute to the student learning material at WUC, particularly those who will be studying the new Global Ecosystem Management degree programme.

Dr Hobson said: "Our study of 36 million kms of road across the Earth's surface reveals deeply fragmented landscapes with just 7% of remaining roadless areas larger than 100 km2. Many of the largest remaining intact ecosystems are unprotected and are imminently vulnerable to development, a situation that is not being helped within the existing framework of the Sustainable Development Goals. This research has been a tremendous experience and achievement; not only the collection and analysis of the data, which we hope will lead to changes in the protection of remaining roadless areas, but also working alongside scientists from other international institutions. I am looking forward to sharing the research methodology and results with my students at WUC."

Full article for Science AAAS members: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/354/6318/1423

Watch the video

View the article in The National Geographic

View the article in The Guardian