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

Emily Woodhouse*, Claire Bedelian, Paul Barnes, Gisella Cruz-Garcia, Neil Dawson, Nicole Gross-Camp, Katherine Homewood, Julia Jones, Adrian Martin, Elisa Morgera, Kate Schreckenberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.
Original languageEnglish
JournalUCL Open Environment
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2022


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