Biodiversity and protected areas

Global conservation of biodiversity resources through land protection has expanded from less than 1 million km2 in 1970 to an estimated 12.2 million km2 in 1997 (Zimmerer, Galt and Buck 2004). There are now over 161,000 protected areas in the world (as of October 2010) with more added daily, representing over 13 percent of the world's land surface area (UN MDG report 2010). The tourism industry, which in many countries is a key economic sector and the main export earner, crucially depends on protected areas. The major scale expansion implies that protected area policies to an increasing degree has become part of mainstream economic policies and issues that threaten or constrain the expansion are easily side-tracked, ignored or even actively suppressed from public debate.

The expansion process is driven by a complex set of actors and interests. A major contribution to the global policy architecture of protected areas has been driven by powerful lobbying groups such as the Nature Conservancy (NC), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Conservation International (CI), the World Conservation Society (WCS) and the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF). There are also global actors and interests related to tourism.

There is a global policy discourse on biodiversity governance where proponents of increased conservation support imposing more and stricter protected area management through a state led, authoritarian 'stick and fence' or 'Fortress Approach' to conservation (Oates, 1999; Terborgh, 1999; Sanderson et al, 2003; Du Toit et al., 2004, Wilshusen et al, 2002. This also presumes an alienation or separation of man and nature through often quite forceful eviction or displacement measures (Agrawal et al 2009). They are confronted by proponents of a more deliberative policy style, reflecting variants of participatory development and rights based approaches through park outreach activities, collaborative management and community conservation (Adams and Hutton, 2007; Goldman 2003; Hutton et al, 2005, Cleaver, 1999).

The critique against the Fortress is primarily that it did not deliver well even on biodiversity management, and much less so on livelihood and local benefits, compensation schemes and reduced costs of the parks. It may seem as if local people in many parks actually incur higher direct and indirect costs from the park than the government has through their annual allocations to parks. 

The lack of deliverance of such public goods generated much conflict with local people, accruing substantial political costs in addition to substantial economic and social “law enforcement” costs for the parks themselves. Wilshusen et al, 1999 calls the Fortress position “operationally unrealistic” and “morally questionable”. Many still argue in favour of conservation but inviting for a discussion over how this can occur in different context.

A new wave of conservationists are increasingly arguing that wildlife cannot and should not have to pay its way. One also sees arguments that issues of poverty alleviation should not be linked to protected areas or to see poverty as a critical constraint on conservation (Terborgh, 1999, Brandon et al., 1998). The alternative approach argues that parks should not in any way increase poverty and one could rather see sustainable use conservation strategies as a means to reduce poverty (Adams et al, 2004). From this, sets of interesting research themes emanate:

  • Environmental governance and protected areas

  • The political economy of protected areas

  • Poverty, social and economic effects of protected areas

  • Rights-based development, participation and protected areas

  • Policy tools and protected areas: measures and instruments

  • Park staff and management cultures

Published 5. June 2015 - 14:23 - Updated 1. December 2016 - 11:46