Protected areas, such as natural World Heritage sites, RAMSAR wetlands and Biosphere Reserves, are ecosystems within landscapes. Each site meets certain criteria that allow it to qualify as a heritage or protected area. Both climate change and human influence (e.g., incursion, increased tourist visitation) are altering biophysical conditions at many such sites. As a result, conditions at many sites are falling outside the criteria for their original designation. The alternatives are to change the criteria, remove protection from the site, change site boundaries such that the larger or smaller landscape meets the criteria, or manage the existing landscape in some way that reduces the threat. This paper argues for adaptive heritage, an approach that explicitly recognizes changing conditions and societal value. We discuss the need to view heritage areas as parts of a larger landscape, and to take an adaptive approach to the management of that landscape. We offer five themes of adaptive heritage: (1) treat sites as living heritage, (2) employ innovative governance, (3) embrace transparency and accountability, (4) invest in monitoring and evaluation, and (5) manage adaptively. We offer the Australian Wet Tropics as an example where aspects of adaptive heritage currently are practiced, highlighting the tools being used. This paper offers guidance supporting decisions about natural heritage in the face of climate change and non-climatic pressures. Rather than delisting or lowering standards, we argue for adaptive approaches.
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