Why roads near freshwater bodies in protected areas need to be located


Hello to all our readers! I am so enthusiastic about starting this journey with FIRELAB again after my long break in India.  Since I returned, I have been regularly working on the Global River Obstruction Database (GROD) and framing new research questions. This week, I’d like to share about a small-scale upcoming project which will revolve around spatial analysis of roads and road crossings around inland water surfaces and rivers in protected areas.

Protected areas play a role in conserving biodiversity and cultural heritage of a place. According to the Aichi Biodiversity Target 11, approximately 15% of the planet’s terrestrial and inland waters are covered by protected areas. However, inland waters often receive secondary recognition because there is more focus on land habitats within protected areas (Bastin et al., 2019).

World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) mentions that roughly around half of the terrestrial and inland waters covered by protected areas are well connected (UNEP-WCMC, 2019).  Along with holding environmental value, these lands and waters hold social and economic significance. Failure of co-existence due to imbalance in sustainable management of ecosystem services can lead to failures in achieving the targets of managing these protected areas.

A ‘water friendly road’ in a forest in Napa, California (Napa watersheds, 2019) 

Flawed road constructions and stream crossings are threats to aquatic habitats and associated species. Roads give access to many of the ecosystem services within these regions and are important for transportation. However, forest roads and stream crossings contribute to environmental damage within aquatic bodies and habitats which exist within. Roads turn out to be a non-point source for sediment and pollutants within a catchment (Sheridan and Noske, 2007). Poorly designed road-stream crossing infrastructure can cause severe alterations in the functions of ecosystems and their forms. Road-stream infrastructure  can constrain the movement of aquatic organisms, particularly  fishes (Bouska, Keane and Paukert, 2010). Roads can also be a cause of loss in genetic diversity among aquatic biota, and even lead to their extinction because of changes in migration patterns and habitat fragmentation (Bouska and Paukert, 2010).

Map of the world’s surface waters within protected areas (Source: Bastin et al., 2019).

As a way to contextualise the potential impacts of road-stream crossings within protected areas, we are developing a spatial analysis of these infrastructure  across the globe. The spatial scale of the estimated analysis has not been determined, but  will be decided based on data availability. Our first step is to determine road-stream intersections using a geographic information system, and determining how many of these occur within different types of protected areas. We will be drawing on secondary spatial data initially, and potentially evaluating the accuracy of these broader-scale analyses for specific protected areas, such as in the Brecon Beacons National Park, close to us here in Swansea. Our work on road-stream crossings builds on work lead by James here in FIRE Lab and previous works carried out in different parts of the world to better our understanding of road infrastructure impacts on freshwater ecosystems.

Thank you all for reading! Please connect with Firelab @FireLabTweets and follow our FireLab blog for more information and exciting updates!


Bastin, L., Gorelick, N., Saura, S., Bertzky, B., Dubois, G., Fortin, M. and Pekel, J. (2019). Inland surface waters in protected areas globally: Current coverage and 30-year trends. PLOS ONE, 14(1), p.e0210496.

Bouska, W. and Paukert, C. (2010). Road Crossing Designs and Their Impact on Fish Assemblages of Great Plains Streams. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 139(1), pp.214-222.

Bouska, W., Keane, T. and Paukert, C. (2010). The Effects of Road Crossings on Prairie Stream Habitat and Function. Journal of Freshwater Ecology, 25(4), pp.499-506.

Protected Planet. (2019). Protected Planet.   https://www.protectedplanet.net/c/protected-planet-report-2016

Sheridan, G. and Noske, P. (2007). Catchment-scale contribution of forest roads to stream exports of sediment, phosphorus and nitrogen. Hydrological Processes, 21(23), pp.3107-3122.

UNEP-WCMC’s official website – Homepage. (2019). Homepage – UNEP-WCMC. https://www.unep-wcmc.org/.

Napa watersheds, (2019)  https://www.napawatersheds.org/watershed-wallet-friendly-roads.


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