The HCV Approach
All natural habitats possess some inherent conservation values, including the presence of rare or endemic species, sacred sites, or resources harvested by local residents. High Conservation Value (HCV) areas are defined as natural habitats where these values are considered to be of outstanding significance or critical importance.
The key to using the HCV approach is the identification of the six High Conservation Values (HCVs), which cover the range of conservation priorities shared by a wide range of stakeholder groups, and include social values as well as ecological values. It is these values that are important and need to be protected. A High Conservation Value area is simply the area (e.g. a forest, a grassland, a watershed, or a landscape-level ecosystem) where these values are found, or, more precisely, the area that needs to be appropriately managed in order to maintain or enhance the identified values. Identifying the areas where these values occur is therefore the essential first step in developing appropriate management for them.
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The HCV process can be summarised as follows:
1. Identify which HCVs are present
The presence or absence of each HCV is determined by using existing data and collecting additional data.
2. Identify the HCV area and how it should be managed
The HCV area is the area of habitat which must be appropriately managed in order to maintain or enhance the identified HCVs.
3. Establish an appropriate monitoring regime
To ensure that the management practices are effective in their aim of maintaining or enhancing the HCVs.
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The HCV concept was originally developed by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to help define forest areas of outstanding and critical importance - High Conservation Value Forests (HCVF) - for use in forest management certification. HCVF guidelines appeared in 1999 in Principle 9 of the FSC's Principles and Citeria of Forest Stewardship, which form the basis for all FSC forest management standards and certification. Under Principle 9, forest managers are required to identify any High Conservation Values that occur within their individual forest management units, to manage them in order to maintain or enhance the values identified, and to monitor the success of this management. By focusing on the values that make a forest particularly important, the debate has been able to move away from definitions of particular forest types (e.g. primary, old growth) or methods of timber harvesting (e.g. industrial logging). By identifying the key values and ensuring that they are maintained or enhanced, it is possible to make rational management decisions that are consistent with the protection of a forest area’s critically important environmental and social values.
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Much of the work and available documents to date (including the Global Toolkit and its many regional interpretations) refer primarily to forests, although the HCV approach is applicable to all kinds of natural habitats. Following publication, the concept has been rapidly adopted and applied within the FSC system and more broadly by decision-makers in the industry, government, and NGO sectors.
The HCV approach and toolkits can be useful not only for forest management, but also for land-use and conservation planning, advocacy, and developing responsible purchasing and investment policies. HCV toolkits are particularly relevant to producers, retailers and investors in forestry, agriculture, mining and energy.