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Reforestation and forest protection

August 2020: Covid-19 has led to a spike in illegal forest activities resulting in increased forest degradation and deforestation, particularly in the Amazon and Congo basin. Increasing forest restoration and forest protection efforts that focus on forest intactness and biodiversity presence could support the sustainable management of forests with high ecological value.


Since the beginning of the pandemic, scientists have recorded increased logging activities in forests and suggest a 77% increase in tree cover loss with a 35% rise in forest clearings compared to the average from 2017-2019. It is closely linked with the collapse of local economies, particularly in regions heavily dependent on tourism. Measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 often include limiting people’s mobility, making law enforcement against illegal logging challenging. It comes at a time where only 6.5% of tropical forests are formally protected and only half remain ecologically intact, suggesting significant omissions in international forest conservation strategies. Current global targets often focus on forest extent with limited recognition of biodiversity presence, forest intactness through connecting corridors or structural forest conditions. Tropical forests with high integrity are largely located in the Amazon and Congo basin with Central Africa representing high priority areas for biodiversity conservation through forest conservation.

Implications and opportunities

Increased activity in forests could contribute to further fragmentation of forests for infrastructure development, agriculture, and extraction of natural resources such as minerals, bushmeat and timber. Such activities and forest fragmentation can lead to further increased deforestation and defaunation, which, in turn can cause declines in biodiversity and has been linked to outbreaks of infectious diseases. It impacts the ability of forests to deliver key ecosystem services including carbon capture and storage, prevention of disease transmission, and water conservation. These developments could be mitigated in directing national infrastructure and agriculture developments to areas of low conservation value to enable sustainable development coupled with sound forest conservation stewardship in areas with high biodiversity. In addition, active reforestation of degraded areas paired with increasing the number of (truly) protected areas and adequately enforcing existing protection measures, could reduce human pressures on forests and promote forests of high ecological value. Such measures could include land-use planning strategies with conservation elements, carbon payments, protected area expansion, community forest management, and forest concession plans.


Specific measures for forest conservation will require adaption at the local level and should reflect local customs, existing forest infrastructure, economic development, capacity constraints and local policy frameworks.


Hansen, A., J., (2020). A policy-driven framework for conserving the best of Earth’s remaining moist tropical forests. Nature Ecology & Evolution. DOI 10.1038/s41559-010-1274-7.

Gross, A., (2020). Global deforestation accelerates during pandemic. Retrieved from

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Adele Wiliams

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The views expressed in these external research papers are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.