Financing of Protected Natural Areas

Project Team

A screen grab from the group’s final presentation to the Conservation Measures Partnership

Team profile by Autumn Burton, Ha Do, Fanqi Jia, Katherine Lyons, Courtney McCorstin, Jwalin Patel, Hannah Royal, Mariana Vedoveto and Justin Zhao

For many years, the conservation community has been working to encourage donors to provide consistent, long-term funding for areas that protect biodiversity (protected areas). Donors have been receptive, and have been providing consistent funding to many protected area projects around the world. However, there has been no real examination of how external donor financing of protected areas influences internal government spending on these resources. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, a member of the Conservation Measures Partnership and a significant donor for biodiversity protection, was especially interested in understanding this issue. The Foundation approached staff at Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, who put together a Bass team of 9 graduate and undergraduate students representing the Nicholas School of the Environment, Sanford School of Public Policy, and the economics department, to help answer the overarching question: how has external financing influenced national commitments to fund biodiversity protection?

Our team’s goal was to understand the different types of outcomes of long-term conservation funding, and in which contexts these outcomes tend to occur. While there are thorough examinations of funding mechanisms, no one has previously looked at how these mechanisms impact government commitments of funds.

By designing an interview instrument and conducting 15 semi-structured interviews of conservation professionals working on specific protected areas and protected area networks, our team analyzed and synthesized findings across 3 global regions: Asia/Pacific, Africa, and Latin America.

Interviews Conducted in Each Region


In addition to qualitative data collected through interviews, our team collected data on the protected area systems, and basic legal, historical, and economic information for each focal country. This was done to try and understand how different country contexts might influence each country’s funding decisions.

Key Findings

The team found that internal funding for protected areas was generated by park entry fees, ecosystem service payments, and general taxation, while external funding was largely supported by international NGOs and private foundations. The overwhelming majority (90%) of respondents discussing protected area networks indicated that internal and external funds were not evenly distributed across all the protected areas within a network.
For specific protected areas, we found that the most common funding mechanisms are conservation trust funds and public-private partnerships, as shown in the pie-chart below.

Pie chart.
Mechanisms used to fund protected areas that we talked to interviewees about.

As conservation trust funds and public-private partnerships are largely implemented by NGOs, we are now working on analyses to examine how NGO involvement in these types of funding mechanisms impacts the degree of internal financial support from countries.

Due to our small sample size and potential biases of those we spoke to, it is important to note that the findings of our study are only indicative of those surveyed and cannot be generalized to all protected areas at this time, but our research methods can be used to guide future research on this topic. We recommend increasing the variety of countries surveyed, as well as collection of background data for each country so that statistics to examine finer trends in protected area funding outcomes can be performed.

Over 20 members of the Conservation Measures Partnership (foundation and NGO representatives) attended our team’s (remote) final presentation. All our findings will also be summarized in a report that will be delivered to Partnership members.