The 30th meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Vilnius, Lithuania has been discussing the state of conservation of natural and cultural World Heritage sites. On Monday evening, delegates had the opportunity to hear about a joint IUCN and UNESCO project which is not only helping improve conservation on the ground but providing a consistent information base for reporting on the management effectiveness of World Heritage sites.

The joint project Enhancing our Heritage, funded by the United Nations Foundation, has been testing the applicability of the IUCN Management Effectiveness Evaluation Framework as a means of improving monitoring and reporting in natural World Heritage sites. Working with managers, NGOs and other stakeholders, the project has developed a toolbox of monitoring methods and applied these in pilot sites in Africa, Latin America and South Asia.

Over 120 delegates at the meeting heard examples from sites such as Sangay National Park in Ecuador where the information provided through the project was a key input into the recent decision to remove Sangay from the World Heritage in Danger list. In Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, the Director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority has credited the project with significantly improving relations with local communities and enhancing co-operation with mountain gorilla conservation.

The Enhancing our Heritage project is just one application of the IUCN Management Effectiveness Evaluation Framework. Delegates learnt that management effectiveness studies have been undertaken in approximately 4000 sites in 82 countries, with most assessments using methodologies based on the IUCN Framework. The UNESCO World Heritage Centre and IUCN are planning projects to extend the Enhancing our Heritage approach to other World Heritage sites with an initial capacity development workshop planned for Africa later this year.