Bioclimatic Refugia of Western Arabia
Permanent Delegation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to UNESCO
Tabuk, Ha’il, Al-Madinah, Makkah, Al-Baha, Asir, Jazan Regions (Imarahs)
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party
Jabal ad-Dubbagh / Jabal al-Lawz
28° 7.800’ N
Jibal Qaraqir / Wadi al-Disah
Jabal Batharah / Wadi Turabah
Wadi Lajb / Jabal al-Qahar
The Bioclimatic Refugia of Western Arabia are a serial site comprising the most important mountain crests, woodlands, and wetlands that harbour relict assemblages of plant and animal species in the western part of the Arabian Peninsula. As relatively cool, moist “islands” in a predominantly arid and semiarid subcontinent, they represent the most outstanding hotspots of terrestrial biodiversity and the most important sites for endemism, reliction, and speciation, as well as the most critically vital sites to conserve these processes under the pressures of global climate change.
With the opening of the Red Sea, the western edge of the Arabian Plate was uplifted, forming the Sarawat mountain range, which runs the length of the Arabian Peninsula and forms a series of escarpments reaching two to three kilometres above sea level. Throughout the Pleistocene and Holocene epochs, fluctuating climates have shaped the flora and fauna of the Arabian subcontinent, centred between Africa and Eurasia. In humid periods, waves of animals and plants have flooded in from northeast Africa and southwest Asia. In arid periods, the less desert-adapted species have withdrawn to the cool, moist mountain heights that are Arabia’s bioclimatic refugia. These refugia are the main sites of reliction, endemism, and speciation on Arabia’s landmass, and they are the sites of its highest terrestrial biodiversity.
The serial site spans the length of the Sarawat mountains within Saudi Arabia, from the Yemen boundary to the Jordan boundary; it represents the full spectrum of biogeographic zones, regional centres of endemism, Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot sites, sites of relict Mediterranean and Irano-Turanian elements, and patches of Arabian valley forest. All sites in Saudi Arabia that are believed to encompass outstanding universal value as bioclimatic refugia and that show a high level of integrity have been included in the series.
The primary aim of the serial site is to conserve the most outstanding bioclimatic refugia that have retained their integrity in the face of environmental degradation and desertification, so that they may continue their role as centres of speciation and endemism under anthropogenic climate change and on into the unknown future. It also aims to ensure that these sites will be centres of environmental education for posterity, wherein visitors can experience immersion in concentrations of thriving diversity of life and the local cultures of its stewards.
The serial site is composed of seven components, listed in sequence from north to south:
Jabal ad-Dubbagh / Jabal al-Lawz
Description: A chain of six granitic plutons in the Madyan Mountains, the northernmost part of the Sarawat range, which include the highest summits in northern Arabia, are weathered into dramatic spires and pinnacles, with woodlands of Phoenician juniper, wild olive, and wild pistachio. They harbour a wide range of endemic and relict plants of Mediterranean and Irano-Turanian origin, as well as the iconic mountain fauna. The site includes an Important Bird Area and the designation of Important Plant Areas within it is underway.
Arabian endemics: Delphinium sheilae, Reseda pentagyna (EN), Argyrolobium sp. aff. crotalarioides, Astracantha (Astragalus) echinus subsp. arabica, ornate dhabb Uromastyx ornata ornata, desert tawny owl Strix hadorami, griffon vulture Gyps fulvus, green bee-eater Merops cyanophrys, Arabian babbler Argya squamiceps, Tristram’s starling Onychognathus tristramii, Arabian serin Crithagra rothschildi.
Key relict taxa: Sinai thyme Thymus decussatus (EN), wild almond Prunus korshinskyi, two-flowered tulip Tulipa biflora, myrtle Myrtus communis, brook willow Salix acmophylla, pine-scented rose Rosa pulverulenta, desert hollyhock Alcea striata, Echinops glaberrimus, Scorzonera intricata, Globularia arabica, Lallemantia royleana, Phlomis brachyodon, Atraphaxis spinosa, Verbascum decaisneanum, Daphne linearifolia, painted rock agama Laudakia stellio brachydactyla, chukar partridge Alectoris chukar, griffon vulture Gyps fulvus, Verreaux’s eagle Aquila verreauxii. caracal Caracal caracal, rock hyrax Procavia capensis syriaca, Nubian ibex Capra nubiana.
Jibal Qaraqir / Wadi al-Disah
Description: A rugged labyrinth of red and yellow sandstone, Jibal Qaraqir is dissected by deep narrow canyons with the most important perennial springs in northern Arabia, above which, to the north and east, looms the high volcanic escarpment of Harrat ar-Raha. An Important Plant Area, it harbours perhaps the largest herd of ibex in Arabia, and until recently, idmi gazelle and Arabian leopard.
Taxa endemic to the site: Douepea arabica (CR).
Arabian endemics: Reseda pentagyna (EN), Nepeta sheilae (EN), Verbascum deserticola (EN), Arabian toad Sclerophrys arabica, green bee-eater Merops cyanophrys, Arabian babbler Argya squamiceps, Tristram’s starling Onychognathus tristramii.
Key relict taxa: wild oleander Nerium oleander, Sinai mullein Verbascum sinaiticum, desert hollyhock Alcea striata, helleborine stream orchid Epipactis veratrifolia, Teucrium leucocladum, Echinops glaberrimus, Chaetosciadium trichospermum, Pterocephalus brevis, Globularia arabica, Delphinium sheilae, Hypericum sinaicum, Satureja thymbrifolia, Phlomis brachyodon, Astracantha echinus subsp. arabica, Salvia palaestina, Ephedra pachyclada subsp. sinaica, Stachys aegyptiaca, Valerianella oxyrhyncha, painted rock agama Laudakia stellio brachydactyla, griffon vulture Gyps fulvus, caracal Caracal caracal, rock hyrax Procavia capensis syriaca, Nubian ibex Capra nubiana.
Description: A prominent mountain massif of clustered pinkish granite domes and pinnacles with ephemeral springs and seeps, supporting the greatest concentration of biodiversity in the arid interior of the Arabian Peninsula. This Pleistocene refuge with Acacia gerrardii woodlands and relict plants of Irano-Turanian and Mediterranean origin is an Important Plant Area and Important Bird Area.
Taxa endemic to the site: a grass Trisetaria chaudharyana, a wallflower Erysimum hedgeanum.
Arabian endemics: a globe thistle Echinops mandavillei, a milkvetch Astragalus collenettiae, Ochradenus arabicus, Kickxia pseudoscoparia, Phagnalon viridifolium var. omanense, Oman toad Duttaphrynus dhufarensis, desert tawny owl Strix hadorami, green bee-eater Merops cyanophrys, Arabian babbler Argya squamiceps,
Key relict taxa: grape hyacinth Muscari tenuiflorum, Barbary iris Moraea sisyrinchium, balangu mint Lallemantia royleana, tunic flower Petrorhagia cretica, two cornsalads Valerianella sclerocarpa, Valerianella oxyrhyncha, Pterocephalus brevis, Thymelaea mesopotamica, wall fescue Vulpia muralis, Clypeola aspera, Noaea mucronata, Gladiolus italicus, Eleocharis uniglumis, Minuartia meyeri, Centaurium erythraea, Searsia tripartita, alpine Punjab skink Eurylepis taeniolatus, painted rock agama Laudakia stellio brachydactyla, griffon vulture Gyps fulvus, caracal Caracal caracal, rock hyrax Procavia capensis syriaca, Nubian ibex Capra nubiana.
Other key taxa: demoiselle crane Grus (Anthropoides) virgo, sand partridge Ammoperdix heyi, ratel Mellivora capensis, Indian crested porcupine Hystrix indica.
Description: A massif of rugged reddish granite crags and pinnacles supporting woodlands of Phoenician juniper, stands of dragon trees, aloes, and plants of Mediterranean origin; its designation as an Important Plant Area is underway. It harbours Nubian ibex, idmi gazelle, and possibly the critically endangered Arabian leopard.
Taxa endemic to the site: Pterocephalus sp. nov. aff. sanctus.
Arabian endemics: Acacia johnwoodii, Aloe porphyrostachys, Teucrium hijazicum, Arabian toad Sclerophrys arabica, ornate dhabb Uromastyx ornata ornata or Philby’s ornate dhabb Uromastyx ornata philbyi, Arabian partridge Alectoris melanocephala, desert tawny owl Strix hadorami, Arabian woodpecker Dendropicos dorae, green bee-eater Merops cyanophrys, Arabian babbler Argya squamiceps, Tristram’s starling Onychognathus tristramii, Arabian sunbird Cinnyris hellmayri, Arabian serin Crithagra rothschildi, Arabian leopard Panthera pardus nimr (CR), idmi (mountain) gazelle Gazella arabica.
Key relict taxa: Nubian dragon tree Dracaena ombet, Origanum syriacum, Sageretia sp. aff. thea, Delonix elata, Olea europaea, Philby’s ornate dhabb Uromastyx ornata philbyi, painted rock agama Laudakia stellio brachydactyla, griffon vulture Gyps fulvus, Verreaux’s eagle Aquila verreauxii, caracal Caracal caracal, rock hyrax Procavia capensis syriaca, Nubian ibex Capra nubiana.
Jabal Batharah / Wadi Turabah
Description: High spires, domes, and buttresses of grey granite harbour montane meadows, dense thickets of tree heather, and woodlands of African juniper, wild olive, and Acacia origena with Pistacia falcata and Rhus retinorrhoea, and plants of both Eastern Afro-montane and Mediterranean origin. On the east side of the mountain, the perennial stream of Wadi Turabah flows for more than twenty kilometres through a series of parallel metamorphic ridges and valleys. Biologically one of the richest streams in the Kingdom, it harbours populations of three endemic species of freshwater fish, as well as endemic and relict anurans. The site is an Important Bird Area and its designation as an Important Plant Area is underway.
Arabian endemics: Allium asirense, Carasobarbus apoensis, Cyprinion mhalensis, Garra buettikeri, Arabian toad Sclerophrys arabica, Anderson’s rock agama Acanthocercus adramitanus, Arabian cobra Naja arabica, Philby’s partridge Alectoris philbyi, Arabian partridge Alectoris melanocephala, desert tawny owl Strix hadorami, Arabian woodpecker Dendropicos dorae, green bee-eater Merops cyanophrys, Arabian babbler Argya squamiceps, Tristram’s starling Onychognathus tristramii, Yemen thrush Turdus menachensis, buff-breasted wheatear Oenanthe bottae, Arabian sunbird Cinnyris hellmayri, Arabian waxbill Estrilda rufibarba, Arabian grossbeak Rhynchostruthus percivali, Arabian serin Crithagra rothschildi, Yemen serin Crithagra menachensis, Yemen linnet Linaria yemenensis.
Key relict taxa: Acacia origena, Pistacia falcata, Rhus retinorrhoea, Barbeya oleoides, Euclea racemosa, Maytenus parvifolia, Sageretia thea, Clutia myricoides, Erica arborea, Dodonaea angustifolia, Euryops arabicus, Psiadia punctulata, Plectranthus asirensis, Lavandula dentata, Salix mucronata, Ficus ingens, Ficus vasta, Cystopteris fragilis, Cyperus alternifolius ssp. flabelliformis, Eleocharis uniglumis, Phoenix caespitosa, Cynosurus elegans, Rosa abyssinica, Crucianella arabica, Trema orientalis, Celtis africana, Jasminum grandiflorum, Clematis hirsuta, Periploca somalensis, Valerianella muricata, Artemisia abyssinica, Achillea biebersteinii, Caralluma quadrangularis, Themeda triandra, Olea europaea, Middle East tree frog Hyla savignyi, Bruce’s green pigeon Treron waalia, black stork Ciconia nigra, hamerkop Scopus umbretta, spotted eagle-owl Bubo africanus milesi, griffon vulture Gyps fulvus, Verreaux’s eagle Aquila verreauxii, grey-headed kingfisher Halcyon leucocephala, violet-backed starling Cinnyricinclus leucogaster.
Description: An outlier of the southern Sarawat mountain range in the Tihamah foothills, Jabal Shada is an isolated massif with jagged spires and pinnacles of granite that support exceptionally diverse plant communities of the Somalia-Masai Centre of Endemism and the Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot. Some 500 plant species are recorded – nearly a quarter of the Kingdom’s flora – as well as griffon vultures, endemic birds of the southwestern mountains, and hoary fox, caracal, striped hyaena, Arabian wolf, genet, and previously the Arabian leopard; its designation as an Important Plant Area is underway.
Taxa endemic to the site: Tarenna graveolens subsp. arabica, Euphorbia sp. aff. Parciramulosa.
Arabian endemics: Acacia johnwoodii, Aloe armatissima, Aloe rubroviolacea, Aloe sabaea, Aloe shadensis, Anderson’s rock agama Acanthocercus adramitanus, ornate dhabb Uromastyx ornata ornata or Philby’s ornate dhabb Uromastyx ornata philbyi, Arabian partridge Alectoris melanocephala, desert tawny owl Strix hadorami, Arabian woodpecker Dendropicos dorae, Arabian sunbird Cinnyris hellmayri, green bee-eater Merops cyanophrys, Arabian babbler Argya squamiceps, Tristram’s starling Onychognathus tristramii.
Key relict taxa: Nuxia oppositifolia (EN), Breonadia salicina, Mimusops laurifolia, Crinum album, Scadoxus multiflorus, Caralluma shadhbana, Caralluma quadrangularis, Caralluma commutata subsp. sheilae = Orbea sprengeri subsp. commutata, Caralluma eremastrum = Orbea wissmannii, Ceropegia vignaldiana, Gymnema sylvestre, Sarcostemma arabica, Cyperus alternifolius subsp. flabelliformis, Dracaena ombet, Barbeya oleoides, Teclea nobilis, Maytenus parvifolia, Flueggea virosa, Sporobolus pellucidus, Eulophia guineensis, Eulophia petersii, Holothrix arachnoidea, Gladiolus dalenii, Portulaca kermesina, Portulaca grandiflora, Abrus precatorius, Plectranthus asirensis, Dodonaea angustifolia, Erica arborea, Ziziphus mucronata, Ficus ingens, Ficus vasta, Sageretia thea, Jasminum grandiflorum, Clematis hirsuta, Periploca somalensis, Rhus retinorrhoea, Rhus abyssinica, Olea europaea, side-necked turtle Pelomedusa subrufa, griffon vulture Gyps fulvus, spotted eagle-owl Bubo africanus milesi, hoary fox Vulpes cana, caracal Caracal caracal, rock hyrax Procavia capensis syriaca.
Wadi Lajb / Jabal al-Qahar
Description: A sandstone-capped massif where high orographic rainfall in spring and late summer and frequent winter mists support dragon trees, aloes, and junipers is cut by the deep narrow canyon of Wadi Lajb, which harbours the Kingdom’s most important patches of Arabian valley forest and a perennial stream with endemic freshwater fishes. To the southeast, Al-Jabal al-Aswad, a pyramidal mountain of metamorphic greenstone, crests at 2,497 m asl and supports a cloud forest of African juniper Juniperus procera, and to the southwest, a lowland granite pluton supports dense dawm palm woodlands. It is an Important Bird Area and its designation as an Important Plant Area is underway.
Taxa endemic to the site: Peucedanum inaccessum, Huernia laevis, Aloe x qaharensis, possibly Albuca pendula / pendens.
Arabian endemics: Aloe edentata, Aloe fleurentinorum, Aloe rivierei, Aloe yemenica, Xerophyta arabica, Plectranthus asirensis, Arabibarbus arabicus, Cyprinion acinaces, Garra sahilia, Garra tibanica, Oman toad Duttaphrynus dhufarensis, Arabian skink Scincus hemprichii, Anderson’s rock agama Acanthocercus adramitanus, Yemen rock agama Acanthocercus yemensis, Philby’s ornate dhabb Uromastyx ornata philbyi, Yemen monitor Varanus yemenensis, Arabian cobra Naja arabica, Asir magpie Pica asirensis (EN), desert tawny owl Strix hadorami, Arabian partridge Alectoris melanocephala, Philby’s partridge Alectoris philbyi, Arabian scops-owl Otus pamelae, Arabian woodpecker Dendropicos dorae, green bee-eater Merops cyanophrys, Arabian babbler Argya squamiceps, Tristram’s starling Onychognathus tristramii, Yemen thrush Turdus menachensis, Arabian sunbird Cinnyris hellmayri, Arabian waxbill Estrilda rufibarba, Arabian grossbeak Rhynchostruthus percivali, Arabian serin Crithagra rothschildi, Yemen serin Crithagra menachensis, Yemen linnet Linaria yemenensis, and possibly Arabian leopard Panthera pardus nimr (CR).
Key relict taxa: Nuxia oppositifolia (EN), Mimusops laurifolia, Breonadia salicina, Trema orientalis, Celtis toka, Trichilia emetica, Combretum molle, Terminalia brownii, Ehretia abyssinica, Maesa lanceolata, Ficus sycamorus, Ficus ingens, Ficus vasta, Phoenix caespitosa, Phoenix reclinata, Kleinia pendula, Kleinia odora, Scadoxus multiflorus, Ceropegia rupicola, Caralluma solenophora, Periploca visciformis, Cyperus alternifolius subsp. flabelliformis, Dracaena ombet, Euphorbia ammak, Euphorbia sp. aff. fruticosa, Teclea nobilis, Tarchonanthus camphoratus, Caucanthus edulis, helleborine stream orchid Epipactis veratrifolia, Eulophia petersii, Verbascum yemense, Ecbolium gymnostachyum, Maytenus parvifolia, Dodonaea angustifolia, Olea europaea, Psilotum nudum, Bruce’s green pigeon Treron waalia, spotted eagle-owl Bubo africanus milesi, griffon vulture Gyps fulvus, striped hyaena Hyaena hyaena sultana, rock hyrax Procavia capensis syriaca, Nubian ibex Capra nubiana, small-spotted genet Genetta genetta granti.
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
Criterion (vii): The serial site of bioclimatic refugia represents a spectrum of some of the most spectacular mountain, canyon, and wetland landscapes in the Arabian Peninsula and the wider swathe of arid lands that extend through Central Asia and North Africa. It is centred on the globally significant geomorphic feature of the Sarawat mountain range, which runs the length of the Arabian Peninsula from north to south and its most ecologically important outliers to the west and east. These sites support dense woodlands of juniper, olive, and acacia species, and in the southwest, Arabian valley forest; the lushness and abundance of these islands of biological diversity gain enhanced poignance by their contrast with the iconic desert landscapes of Arabia that surround them. They harbour populations of the suite of charismatic mountain species: Nubian ibex, rock hyrax, griffon vulture, Arabian wolf, striped hyaena, caracal, and in some cases, idmi (mountain) gazelle, Nubian / Arabian dragon tree, and possibly Arabian leopard in their natural habitats.
Criterion (ix): The serial site of bioclimatic refugia represents the most outstanding examples of significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems and communities of plants and animals in the western highlands of the Arabian subcontinent. As bioclimatic and biogeographic refugia, this series of sites represents the meeting and mixing of Arabia’s biogeographic zones. All of them harbour plants of the Saharo-Sindian regional zone (Arabian regional subzone and Nubo-Sindian local centre of endemism) that are typical of Arabian deserts. In the southerly sites, they mix with elements of the Somalia-Masai regional centre of endemism in coastal and low-altitude areas and the high-altitude Afromontane archipelago-like regional centre of endemism, including the Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot; in the northerly sites, species of the Saharo-Sindian zone meet with elements from the Mediterranean and Irano-Turanian zones. In their zoogeography, the sites likewise reflect elements of the Palearctic, Afrotropical, and Indo-Malayan realms meeting and mixing within the Eremian (Saharo-Sindian) zone.
With lower temperatures and higher available moisture than other parts of Arabia, these sites are important refugia for geographically and bioclimatically restricted animals and plants to retreat to in the face of climatic change. They serve as natural gene banks, from which plant and animal species can disperse into the surrounding region. They harbour a remarkable range of vascular plants, mosses and liverworts, lichens, fungi, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and freshwater fishes. Planned investigations into the invertebrate fauna are expected to reveal new records of freshwater molluscs, arachnids, and insects, such as lepidoptera and dragonflies.
Criterion (x): The serial site of bioclimatic refugia contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in situ conservation of biological diversity in the mountainous western parts of Arabia: the biodiversity hotspots of isolated mountains, with their associated woodlands and natural wetlands. Threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation: the globally endangered Nubian and/or Arabian dragon trees Dracaena ombet and/or D. serrulata, the vulnerable Arabian wolf Canis lupus arabs, the vulnerable Nubian ibex Capra nubiana, the vulnerable idmi (mountain) gazelle Gazella arabica, and possibly the critically endangered Arabian leopard Panthera pardus nimr, as well as many less well-known but important globally threatened species: They include the only sites on Earth in which Douepea arabica (CR), Reseda pentagyna (CR), Peucedanum inaccessum (EN), Verbascum deserticola (EN), Huernia laevis, Trisetaria chaudharyana, and Nepeta sheilae, among others, are known to occur, and the only sites in Arabia in which Thymus decussatus, Tulipa biflora, Prunus korshinskyi, Myrtus communis, and Rosa pulverulenta, among many others, are recorded. The bioclimatic refugia are essential sites for preservation of the spectrum of flora and fauna of Arabia that managed to survive the climatic changes of the region in the past millennia. They acquire an even stronger relevance in the current climate change conditions, and they are particularly suitable sites for well-designed programmes to restore wildlife species that have become nationally or locally extinct or critically endangered, such as the lammergeier and Arabian leopard.
Further, the serial site provides safe refuge for a wide range of regionally threatened species: caracal, striped hyaena, rock hyrax, griffon vulture, Nuxia oppositifolia (EN), Breonadia salicina, and Mimusops laurifolia. The serial site also conserves habitats of all 17 non-marine, non-desert Arabian endemic and near-endemic birds that occur in Saudi Arabia. Of Arabian endemic reptiles, it covers habitats of the Arabian skink, Anderson’s rock agama, Yemen rock agama, Yemen monitor, Arabian cobra, and of six of the seven amphibian species that occur in Saudi Arabia, (three Arabian endemics and three relicts), and all but one of the Arabian endemic freshwater fish species.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity
The proposed serial site includes all the most outstanding sites of reliction, endemism, and speciation of plants and vertebrate wildlife species in the mountains and highlands of Saudi Arabia. It includes safe havens for conservation and/or reintroduction of the critically endangered Arabian leopard, the vulnerable Nubian ibex, the vulnerable idmi (mountain) gazelle, and the endangered Nubian and/or Arabian dragon trees (research into the taxonomic status and the boundary between the distribution of these dragon trees is ongoing).
Four of the seven bioclimatic refugia are Important Bird Areas and all seven are Important Plant Areas. Assessments of two of the seven sites as Important Plant Areas have been published; assessments of the other five are underway and are to be completed in 2022. The Kingdom’s Key Biodiversity Areas are being assessed and highest priority is being given to assessment of the bioclimatic refugia. Surveys of prominent invertebrate taxa (e.g., odonata, lepidoptera, mollusca) in these sites are to be carried out in 2022 and are likely to add to the lists of endemic taxa.
The boundaries of the protected areas include the terrestrial and inland water habitats necessary for the long-term conservation of key terrestrial and aquatic taxa, physical attributes and associated aesthetic and cultural values and attributes. The network of refugia is of sufficient size to conserve the most outstanding refugia and the individual sites are large enough to meet their aims; the smaller sites are large enough to protect their biotic communities and wetlands with the watersheds that sustain them, while the larger sites provide habitat for the conservation and reintroduction of wide-ranging carnivores, such as the Arabian leopard.
Each component of the network of refugia is sufficiently intact to fulfil its conservation function. Factors that have degraded most terrestrial wildlands of Arabia, such as overgrazing overhunting, tree-cutting, and habitat degradation and fragmentation, have not caused irreparable damage within the selected sites. Where appropriate, measures to restore ecosystem components and qualities to previous levels of health excellence are being planned, and where needed, buffer zones will be established to stave off existing threats and potential future threats. Like most areas on Earth, these sites are vulnerable to expected increases in drought and heat from anthropogenic climate change, yet they are expected to be among the region’s terrestrial sites best situated to retain the cool and moist conditions that will enable most of their plant and animal species to survive. Their boundaries are designed to emphasise altitudinal and other connectivity to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
The human population within the proposed serial site is small and is concentrated in small rural enclaves in the protected areas. However, the Jabal Aja component, which lies within the King Salman Royal Nature Reserve, is adjacent to the city of Ha’il and the Jabal ad-Dubbagh / Jabal al-Lawz component is adjacent to the planned city of NEOM. The authorities in the King Salman and NEOM Nature Reserves are committed to best practice in bioregional planning methods to maintain and restore the natural values of these and all other natural sites within the project area.
The serial site will enjoy strong legal protection under the new environmental legislation approved by the Board of Governors of the National Center for Wildlife, the national agency mandated with the recommendation and designation of protected areas in the Kingdom. Over the coming two years, the full network of bioclimatic refugia is to be designated and managed by the various agencies responsible for their administration, including managers, technicians, law enforcement rangers, and support personnel. They will be equipped with management stations, communication systems and transport means. and will maintain close coordination with local government agencies and stakeholders including the provincial and county governments. Environmental research and ecological monitoring will be conducted in collaboration with the various research centres and departments of the NCW and the Kingdom’s universities.
Saudi Arabia currently uses a spectrum of protected area categories different from but related to the global standard of IUCN; this includes Special Nature Reserves (IUCN’s 1a Strict Nature Reserve, II National Park: ecosystem conservation and recreation), Natural Reserves (IUCN’s 1b Wilderness Area), Biological Reserves (IUCN’s 1a Strict Nature Reserve, IV Habitat / Species Management Area), Resource Use Reserves (IUCN’s VI Managed Resource Protected Area: sustainable use of natural ecosystems), and No-hunting and Recreational Reserves (IUCN’s V Protected Landscape / Seascape: landscape / seascape conservation and recreation).
The components of the serial site are currently in various stages of protection:
- Jibal Qaraqir is part of the Wadi al Disah zone of the designated Prince Mohammed bin Salman Royal Nature Reserve. Policies for restoration of the natural ecosystems of Wadi al Disah to their status 100 years ago are in place and include measures to restore the previous groundwater levels and populations of plant and animal species. The governing authorities have resolved to accomplish this in collaboration with the local communities, enabling them to prosper in harmony with all these communities of living beings. It is recommended that similar policies be extended to the other components of the proposed serial World Heritage Site;
- Jabal Aja is part of the designated King Salman Royal Nature Reserve;
- Jabal ad-Dubbagh / Jabal al-Lawz lies within the NEOM project area and is zoned for nature conservation and restoration;
- Jabal Shada al-A‘la, the highest part of Jabal Shada, is a designated protected area managed by the National Center for Wildlife since 2002. A proposed extension covering Jabal Shada al-Asfal and adjacent Wadi Nawan is proposed for designation as protected areas by the NCW in 2022;
- Jabal Radwa, Jabal Batharah / Wadi Turabah, and Wadi Lajb / Jabal al-Qahar are proposed for designation as protected areas by the NCW in 2022. The northern and western parts of the Jabal Radwa area fall within the Red Sea Project area.
The final configuration, zonation and management arrangements for each of the seven components will be decided by the respective legal management entities during the World Heritage nomination process.
Comparison with other similar properties
It is believed that this site has the potential to become the first World Heritage Site comprising a country’s array of outstanding bioclimatic refugia. The closest analogy in the West and Central Asia / North Africa region is the transnational Western Tien Shan serial site in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, although there are serial sites on Egypt’s Tentative List.
The nearest World Heritage Site geographically and the one with the closest biological and geological affinities to the northern parts of the Bioclimatic Refugia of Western Arabia is the Wadi Rum Protected Area in Jordan. This site does not appear to meet the level of outstanding universal value as a bioclimatic refuge. Saudi Arabia’s proposed Hisma protected area is contiguous with Wadi Rum and represents an opportunity for transboundary collaboration.
Another adjacent protected area that is on the World Heritage List as a Cultural Heritage site, not as a natural site, is the Saint Catherine Area in Egypt. This site has close geological, floral, and faunal affinities with the Jabal ad-Dubbagh / Jabal al-Lawz component of the proposed serial property and, like it, is a significant bioclimatic refuge.
Simien National Park in Ethiopia is the World Heritage Site with the closest biological affinities to the high-altitude southern components of the proposed serial site, which, like it, represent the Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot.
Other protected areas on the World Heritage List that act as bioclimatic refugia in arid regions and share some of the floral and faunal elements found in the Bioclimatic Refugia of Western Arabia include Tassili n’Ajjer in Algeria, the Ennedi Massif Natural and Cultural Landscape in Chad, and the Air part of the Air and Ténéré Natural Reserves in Niger.
Other protected areas that are not on the World Heritage List but share its value as outstanding bioclimatic refugia and conserve many of the same floral and faunal elements include Wadi Bura Biosphere Reserve and Hawf Protected Area in Yemen and Jabal Samhan Reserve in Oman; indeed, these might ideally be considered for future inclusion in an expanded transnational serial site.
Other protected areas in neighbouring countries that serve as bioclimatic refugia and conserve some floral and faunal elements found in the serial site include the Dana and Mujib Biosphere Reserves in Jordan; Qara Dagh, Piramagroon and Sakran Mountains, and Barzan / Gali Balnda Area in Iraq; As-Salil Natural Park and Jabal Qahwan, Al-Jabal al-Akhdar, Western Hajar, and Ar-Rustaq Reserves in Oman; Wadi el-Gemal / Hemata in Egypt; and Gabel Elba in Egypt / Sudan.
The aesthetic values of the serial site’s sandstone and granite scenery are comparable to those of renowned sites in southwestern North America: Canyonlands and Zion National Parks, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and Joshua Tree National Park. Some of the granitic elements have geomorphological affinities with Keketuohai UNESCO Global Geopark in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China.