Quantifying the effects of development projects on biodiversity conservation in West Africa.

Jonathan’s research aims to examine the success of environmental safeguards in international development projects

Photo credit: Lindsay Stark


The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out the global commitment to an agenda of sustainable development. The goals include commitments to economic development and improving the living conditions of people currently living in poverty, for example Goal 1 “No Poverty” and Goal 8 “Decent Work and Economic Development”. The goals also contain conservation objectives with stated aim to halt biodiversity loss, in Goal 14 “Life Below Water” and Goal 15, “Life on Land”.

The SDGs form the structure around which international aid to countries considered ‘developing’ is allocated. These same countries often contain biodiversity hotspots with large numbers of animal and plant species, many of which are both endemic and threaten by extinction. The SDGs, and the broader agenda from which they are derived, can only be successful if the economic development in these regions can be achieved without contributing to the loss of the regions animal and plant species.

This project aims to explore these issues by looking at historical development projects funded by intentional aid and the impacts they have had on biodiversity conservation in the region of West Africa. West Africa is a highly biologically diverse region and is home to some of the poorest human populations on the planet. It has been the recipient of billions of dollars of aid both to assist economic development, in the form of development projects such as road building, and to assist in biodiversity conservation, such as the formation of projected areas.

This project will utilise the recently complied geocoded database of World Bank projects created by AidData along with a range of sources of biodiversity data, utilising GIS and remote sensing techniques to look across spatial scales, from the local to the region as a whole.


Jonathan Morley


Aidan Keane (Chancellor’s Fellow & Senior Lecturer at the School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh).

Ed Mitchard (Chancellor’s Fellow & Senior Lecturer at the School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh).

Graeme Buchanan (Centre for Conservation Science, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds)


Natural Environment Research Council Doctoral Training Partnership

Collaborating organizations:

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds


Morley, J., Buchanan, G., Mitchard, E. T. A., & Keane, A. (2020). Implications of the World Bank’s environmental and social framework for biodiversity. Conservation Letters, 31, 1.