Research article

Rethinking entrenched narratives about protected areas and human wellbeing in the Global South

Authors
  • Emily Woodhouse orcid logo (Department of Anthropology, University College London, London, UK)
  • Claire Bedelian (International Institute for Environment and Development, London, UK)
  • Paul Barnes (Department of Anthropology, University College London, London, UK)
  • Gisella S. Cruz-Garcia (Sowing Diversity = Harvesting Security, Oxfam Novib, The Hague, The Netherlands)
  • Neil Dawson (School of International Development, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK)
  • Nicole Gross-Camp (Boston College, Morrissey College of the Arts & Sciences, Environmental Studies Program, Chestnut Hill, MA, USA)
  • Katherine Homewood orcid logo (Department of Anthropology, University College London, London, UK)
  • Julia P.G. Jones orcid logo (College of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, Bangor University, Bangor, UK)
  • Adrian Martin orcid logo (School of International Development, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK)
  • Elisa Morgera orcid logo (Law School, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK)
  • Kate Schreckenberg orcid logo (Geography Department, King’s College London, London, UK)

This is version 2 of this article, the published version can be found at: https://doi.org/10.14324/111.444/ucloe.000050

Abstract

Attempts to link human development and biodiversity conservation goals remain a constant feature of policy and practice related to protected areas (PAs). Underlying these approaches are narratives that simplify assumptions, shaping how interventions are designed and implemented. We examine evidence for five key narratives: 1) conservation is pro-poor; 2) poverty reduction benefits conservation; 3) compensation neutralises costs of conservation; 4) local participation is good for conservation; 5) secure tenure rights for local communities support effective conservation. Through a mixed-method synthesis combining a review of 100 peer-reviewed papers and 25 expert interviews, we examined if and how each narrative is supported or countered by the evidence. The first three narratives are particularly problematic. PAs can reduce material poverty, but exclusion brings substantial local costs to wellbeing, often felt by the poorest. Poverty reduction will not inevitably deliver on conservation goals and trade-offs are common. Compensation (for damage due to human wildlife conflict, or for opportunity costs), is rarely sufficient or commensurate with costs to wellbeing and experienced injustices. There is more support for narratives 4 and 5 on participation and secure tenure rights, highlighting the importance of redistributing power towards Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities in successful conservation. In light of the proposed expansion of PAs under the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, we outline implications of our review for the enhancement and implementation of global targets in order to proactively integrate social equity into conservation and the accountability of conservation actors.

Keywords: conservation, development, ecosystem services, equity, governance, poverty, protected areas, social justice wellbeing

Rights: © 2022 The Authors.

2194 Views

5Citations

Published on
16 Nov 2022
Peer Reviewed

 Open peer review from Laura Picot

Review

Review information

DOI:: 10.14293/S2199-1006.1.SOR-EARTH.AVFG0D.v1.RJQKPV
License:
This work has been published open access under Creative Commons Attribution License CC BY 4.0 , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Conditions, terms of use and publishing policy can be found at www.scienceopen.com .

ScienceOpen disciplines: Environmental studies , Development studies
Keywords: ecosystem services , development , equity , People and their environment , Sustainability , social justice , protected areas , Environmental justice and inequality/inequity , poverty , conservation , wellbeing , Conservation , governance

Review text

General assessment

This manuscript provides a valuable contribution to considering trade-offs between human wellbeing and conservation through protected areas. It examines five narratives common to policy and practice that perpetuate beliefs that interventions necessarily produce “win-win” outcomes for people and nature. The article argues that there is only mixed evidence to support these assumptions and that the specific context must be taken into account in order to produce positive outcomes, particularly for Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples. The paper draws upon evidence from a thorough review of relevant literature and interviews with experts within their networks.

A strength of the paper is its quality of writing and accessible structure. The paper is well written and easy to follow, taking the reader through an evaluation of five assumptions/narratives in turn. Each narrative section contains an explanation of the underlying assumptions and how the narrative has been implemented and explores the extent to which the reviewed literature supports the narrative and some mention of interviewee responses. The summary at the end of each section giving a brief evaluation of the narrative’s validity is helpful to the reader.

The authors’ main contribution is their delineation and critique of the five narratives and discussion of how these critiques could improve the goals and targets of the CBD draft post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. The paper takes a holistic view of human wellbeing, including aspects such as cultural impacts. It acknowledges well how the needs of different individual groups vary according to factors such as income and access.

However, the framing of the paper should be improved to highlight better the novel contributions it is making, beyond the obvious arguments that such win-win narratives are not universally applicable and that socio-ecological context is key to the outcomes of protected area interventions.

Framing of the contribution

The paper’s most novel contribution is its critique of the five narratives and how that can inform the CBD draft post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and other policy and practice. Going beyond well-established arguments that effective conservation practice must consider specific socio-ecological contexts, the paper would benefit from a more nuanced discussion of recommendations for change and better ways of protecting and conserving areas. Indeed, a main contribution of the paper is in linking the five narratives concretely to how they play out in existing governance and practice, which is achieved by references to the draft post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. However, these points could be further developed and elaborated on, primarily through more discussion of Table 2 (a significant contribution but lacking in-text explanation) and more consistent references to the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework throughout the paper (i.e. in the narratives sections). The authors could also link to other relevant and timely protected area governance decisions, e.g. the recent COP26 deforestation and land degradation pledges.

Justification of methods

The role and value of the expert interviews in the study needs more explanation. Firstly, it is unclear how the interviews were conducted, e.g. in person, on online calls or through a written questionnaire? Secondly, the authors do not present the nuanced findings that one would expect qualitative expert interviews to yield. For example, the discussion of Narrative 5 states only that “Interviewees were also largely supportive of this narrative” (line 616), indicating that the interviews did not yield much additional data than the literature review. I therefore question their relevance or utility as a method in this study

The development and selection of the five narratives also require further justification. For example, the process by which the five were selected in the workshop is unclear. Was a longer list of narratives initially drawn up and the less common themes were dropped, based on the review? Given that the article rests on these five narratives being common in practice, it is important to explain how and why they were chosen. It would also be helpful to have some examples of how belief in these narratives has affected policy and interventions in practice. The paper would also benefit from more examples of how common they are, whether they build upon or interact with one another (rather than each being considered in isolation) and the ways in which they are reinforced such that they shape how protected area interventions are designed and implemented.

Definition of Protected Areas and Human Wellbeing

The authors take a broad definition of Protected Areas and often conflate them with  “conservation”. For example, their protected area intervention search terms include “biodiversity conservation”, “ecotourism”, and “payment for ecosystem services”. The fact that the paper does not only refer to protected area interventions needs to be made clearer, including in the abstract and introduction. Furthermore, references should be provided to support the claim that their definition encompasses the full range of protected areas “In line with latest policy and thinking” (line 137).

Likewise, a broad definition of human wellbeing has been taken. This holistic approach is appropriate for the paper, but should be better explained and supported in the introduction, going beyond what is written in line 130.

Summary

With some adjustments, especially to how the paper is framed in relation to policy and how its methodology is justified, this well-written paper could make an important and timely contribution to research and practice around protected areas and human wellbeing.

Laura Picot

Oxford, UK, 11 February 2022



Note:
This review refers to round of peer review and may pertain to an earlier version of the document.

 Open peer review from Erika Berenguer

Review

Review information

DOI:: 10.14293/S2199-1006.1.SOR-EARTH.AQYREZ.v1.RENYYP
License:
This work has been published open access under Creative Commons Attribution License CC BY 4.0 , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Conditions, terms of use and publishing policy can be found at www.scienceopen.com .

ScienceOpen disciplines: Environmental studies , Development studies
Keywords: ecosystem services , development , equity , People and their environment , Sustainability , social justice , protected areas , Environmental justice and inequality/inequity , poverty , conservation , wellbeing , Conservation , governance

Review text

In this paper, the authors examine five narratives surrounding protected areas through a synthesis of the literature and interviews with key stakeholders. The subject of the paper is both interesting and extremely relevant, being pivotal to guide future approaches to protected areas. Furthermore, the paper is so well written that it was a pleasure to review it (although sometimes this made the paper harder to evaluate, as I so easily became involved in the paper that I forgot to review it!). Still, I think the paper can benefit from some reviews:

Main points

  1. Although I understand the authors’ choice to have a balanced sampled design of 20 paper per narrative, I don’t really see the point of it in this case – i.e. you are losing information, but not gaining any advantages. Furthermore, the interviews were not selected to focus in each particular narrative, they do not have a balanced sampling design, so why do that to the papers? I strongly recommend incorporating all papers and even including a paper multiple times if it addresses >1 narrative.
  2. I am a bit uncomfortable with the way the narratives are being evaluated in each narrative section. For example, N1 is that ‘conservation is pro-poor’, but instead of only debating poverty metrics, it also discusses wellbeing metrics. The same applies for N2 and N3. The inadequacy of how poverty is measured (i.e. by material values, excluding other important values such as cultural and recreational) is a structural issue and not a problem of each narrative per se. It seems unfair to criticize narratives for not addressing wellbeing when they are not about wellbeing in first place. Of course the lack of wellbeing assessment is a major issue, but this should be part of the discussion and not of the results. I understand that by changing the scope to poverty only, the overall sampling size will decrease.
  3. Currently the paper is very long and the results and discussion overlap quite a bit. I suggest severely reducing the results, focusing solely on the evidence found and not on discussing the reasons behind the findings. This should be merged with the discussion. For example, the first 2 paragraphs of N4 seem to be discussion material, as well as the whole debate of the motivations behind participation in PA management.
  4. Across the results’ section, the authors discuss that they find strong or weak evidence that either support or not each narrative. How did the authors define ‘strong’ and ‘weak’?

Minor points

Methods

  • It is unclear why the authors focused only on African NGOs to validate their five narratives. This could have biased the validation process (which by the way needs to be better described) as perhaps these narratives are not applicable elsewhere. It would be great to 1) add an explanation of the validation process and its reasoning, 2) add NGOs operating in Asia and the Americas in the validation process, 3) present a figure of the validation process, probably in the SM (i.e. the proportion of NGOs in each country that validated each of the narratives).
  • Figure 1 – make the text on the left side bigger, it is hard to see even in a big screen with the zoom at 125% on the pdf.
  • Why did the authors investigate only 1 or 2 narratives per paper? None had more? Or was there a choice in limiting it? If so, which of the narratives was decided to be included? How was the primary and secondary relevance decided? All these need clarification.
  • The authors comment the publication bias, with most studies being focused in Africa. However, I think here another point is crucial to be made – most of the land protected is in the Americas, but it only had 1 study fitting your criteria. This represents a huge bias in our knowledge. This is crucial to be highlighted as later in the discussion it would be interesting to discuss this as a caveat (i.e. do the results coming mainly from an African context apply to Pas in Latin America?).
  • Selection of interviewers: are they all in the same stage of their career? How much experience they have in PA creation, management and effectiveness assessment? This part is very obscure.

Narratives

  • A stacked bar chart for each narrative would be extremely useful to help visualize the results. At the moment, it feels a bit like cherry picking, with the authors using a few examples to justify their point. I understand this is not the authors’ aim and a stacked bar chart could help to reduce this impression. The stacks could represent the % of the publications that support, contradict or are neutral in each narrative.
  • Line 506 – missing a space between ‘three showed’
  • Lines 576-578 – can you provide the figures behind this conclusion?

Discussion

  • Line 725 – space missing in ‘over improvements’

Box 1: Definitions of narratives N1. Conservation is pro-poor: Because poor people are disproportionately dependent on ecosystem services, PAs that protect or enhance those services will alleviate poverty N2. Poverty reduction benefits conservation: Because poor people are disproportionately dependent on ecosystem services, improving their material wellbeing will reduce pressure on PAs N3. Compensation neutralises costs of conservation: Unavoidable costs of PAs for local people can be adequately offset by providing appropriate compensation N4. Participation is good for conservation: Local participation in PA governance is a route to more effective conservation N5. Secure tenure rights for local communities support effective conservation: Secure and welldefined rights of tenure to land and resources underpin positive social and ecological outcomes in and around Pas.



Note:
This review refers to round of peer review and may pertain to an earlier version of the document.