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

    Rethinking entrenched narratives about protected areas and human wellbeing in the Global SouthCrossref
    Well-structured critique that needs better justification of novelty and methods
    Average rating:
        Rated 3.5 of 5.
    Level of importance:
        Rated 3 of 5.
    Level of validity:
        Rated 3 of 5.
    Level of completeness:
        Rated 4 of 5.
    Level of comprehensibility:
        Rated 4 of 5.
    Competing interests:

    Reviewed article

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    • Article: found
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    Rethinking entrenched narratives about protected areas and human wellbeing in the Global South

    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. Conservation 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. There are ambitious global targets for nature protection post-2020. The experience of recent PA governance and management needs to inform this expansion if local people are not to suffer injustices. The evidence points towards conservation that adheres to principles of good and equitable governance, but must be adapted to context specific social-ecological dynamics.

      Review information

      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.

      Environmental studies,Development studies
      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.



      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



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