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

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            Revision notes

            Dear Dr Gutierrez, 

            Thank you for your positive comments and the opportunity to revise the paper for UCL Open Environment. We have considered all the reviewers’ points below, with particular attention to the two issues you have highlighted. We have therefore drawn out more fully the novel contribution of the paper in critiquing the Global Biodiversity Framework and informing how it should be implemented. We have also responded in full to the comments about the literature review process and interviewees, and added the figures requested.

            Reviewer 1

            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.

            Authors’ response:

            Thank you for your positive comments. As outlined below, we have highlighted how the paper is making a novel contribution through linkages with the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

            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.

            Authors’ response:

            To better highlight the novel contribution of the paper, we have added a more thorough discussion of Table 2 (lines 725-772) highlighting what our review suggests for the articulation of the Global Biodiversity Framework targets and their implementation. As suggested by the editor we have largely confined this to the discussion section. To make this contribution as focused as possible, especially given the forthcoming COP15 in December, we have focused on the Global Biodiversity Framework, but recognise the findings are relevant for other debates and policy decisions.


            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

            Authors’ response:

            We have added the format of the interviews in parentheses “(in person or on video call)” into the methods section (line 200). The qualitative interviews did yield nuanced findings and we feel that is reflected in the paper, although we decided not to include quotations due to lack of space in an already long paper. For example, for narrative 4 on participation, expert interviews were important in understanding resources and support needed for effective participatory processes. For narrative 5, the interviews were particularly useful in highlighting the challenges of tenure formalisation for mobile groups. The interviews, as explained in the methods section, were important for representing expert knowledge on the ground (not necessarily captured in academic literature) and counterbalancing the regional bias in the literature review (lines 691-693).


            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.

            Authors’ response:

            We have added some clarity on the process of deciding upon the narratives in our initial project workshop: “The narratives were identified during a two-day workshop through deliberative processes based on participants’ (conservation researchers and practitioners) knowledge. This involved identifying possible narratives in small groups, then discussing their importance and popularity in forming the basis for PA policy and practice based on participants experience and with reference to international conservation policy documents.” (lines 140-144). We also state later that we understand that there are other narratives underpinning conservation practice but these were the ones chosen by our expert group (lines 697-700). We feel that we do explain at the start of each narrative section how they have informed key practices and policies regarding protected areas e.g. tenure rights appear in five of the sustainable development goals (line 585), and that narrative 2 underpins popular ‘integrated conservation and development projects (ICDPs) (line 114). We tested how common they are through a review of conservation organisation websites and in the expert interviews (lines 144-148). We do mention the interaction between narratives in the discussion e.g. that the pro-poor narrative is bolstered by the assumption of compensation in narrative 3 (lines 703-704), and could explore this further but feel that this would add to much length and over-complicate this particular paper.


            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).

            Authors’ response:

            The paper focuses on narratives underlying protected area establishment and management. That management often involves a variety of different types of activities including ecotourism and other livelihood schemes and PES. We think this is fully explained in the Introduction. Reflecting the diversity of PAs around the globe we are including a range of different governance and management types. We do, however, accept that we have conflated ‘conservation’ and ‘protected areas’ at times and this is confusing, so thank you for highlighting this. We have therefore replaced the word PAs for conservation in several places, to make this clearer. We have also added a reference to the IUCN report on ‘other effective area-based conservation measures’ published after the definition was agreed at the 14th COP of the CBD in 2018 (line 136).


            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.

            Authors’ response:

            Thank you. We have explained this definition more fully in lines 89-94, including the idea of equity: “Recent approaches to the social dimensions of PAs have taken a multi-dimensional view of human wellbeing that looks beyond material circumstances, to a subjective evaluation of one’s own life, and a relational component that focuses on how people engage with others to achieve their goals (Coulthard et al. 2018). Conceptualisations of equity have also expanded from looking at the distributional impacts to encompass recognition of rights and values, and procedural aspects (Schreckenberg et al. 2016).”


            Reviewer 2:

            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!). 

            Author response: 

            Thank you for your positive comments on the paper.


            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.

            Authors’ response:

            We understand this point but given that we were focused less on the strength of support through ‘vote counting’ and more on how narratives were supported and contested, we felt that focusing in-depth on fewer papers highly relevant to the narratives was a better way to achieve this with the resources that we had. We also felt that assessing each paper for only one narrative was simpler methodologically during the review process, especially as for some papers the relationship to other narratives was peripheral. This approach was not reflected in the interviews as the expertise of the interviewees was not specific to each narrative but rather in the governance and impacts of protected areas more generally.


            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.

            Authors’ response:

            We appreciate the point being made here. In response, we have clarified in the introduction that a broader idea of poverty and wellbeing is increasingly employed (lines 89-94), better setting up us exploring this in the literature. We have toned down the focus on this aspect in parts of the results sections as suggested e.g. in the concluding paragraph of Narrative 1 (lines 311-315). However, we think that the point about there are often trade-offs and complexities if a broader perspective is taken on poverty and what people value is an important one in challenging the narratives, and have kept this in the results e.g. treating livelihoods as only economic rather than cultural has been at the centre of intervention failures.


            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.

            Authors’ response:

            We have edited down parts of the results section to keep it more tightly focused on the evidence. As a narrative review, our key aim is to investigate how the evidence supports or contests the narratives and given the evidence is quite complex, this requires some explanation. Both reviewers commended the readability of the paper and we did not want to reduce that. The first paragraph of each narrative section in the results outlines briefly how the logic of the narrative and how it has been important for conservation policy and practice. We feel this provides context (Reviewer 1 has in fact asked for more on the impacts on policy and practice) and the evidence presented subsequently is used to challenge and investigate the logic and mechanisms at work e.g. what kinds of benefits are important for participation and therefore effective conservation.


            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’?

            Authors’ response:

            Lines 215-219 explain how reviewers used their judgement in assessing the weight of evidence in each paper “which was categorised into strong (results fit the narrative with little deviation), partial (results are mixed or do not demonstrate the narrative in full) or none (results provide no support).” For example, as outlined in lines 329-332 for narrative 2, if papers showed strong and consistent evidence of changes in behaviour related to conservation or biodiversity/ecological outcomes, they were categorised as strong; if they only showed evidence of a positive change in attitudes towards conservation, they would be categorised as partial.

            Minor points

            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).

            Authors’ response:

            We focused on African NGOs as there is a complete list of NGOs operating in this region from Brockington & Scholfield 2010. However, a number of these (32) are international NGOs working beyond African countries (largely in Asia and Latin America) including prominent and influential organisations such as Conservation International, Fauna and Flora International, WWF, and Wildlife Conservation Society. We have now highlighted these organisations in the supplementary materials. We have also added in a summary chart of the interview data showing how many interviewees reported being familiar with the narratives (see revised Supplementary materials) and reference this in the methods section (lines 151-152).


            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.

            Authors’ response:

            Thank you for flagging this. We have made changes to the text size so it is the same as the other text in the figure.


            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.

            Authors’ response:

            As discussed above, we decided for simplicity to focus on one narrative per paper for which it was highly relevant. This was because the nature of the narrative review required in-depth analysis of the paper. Many papers were only of primary relevance to one narrative but if other narratives were relevant, we also assigned a narrative of secondary relevance during the screening process. This was done blind by two reviewers. If there was any disparity in the results, the paper was reviewed in full and the narratives discussed and agreed upon.


            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?)

            Authors’ response:

            Thank you for this point. We have adjusted the language in the limitations section to highlight both that we interviewed experts who worked in the Americas, but also that future research would be needed to clarify how the narratives play out in different geographical contexts especially Latin America. “However, further research would be needed to discern how the narratives may play out differently in Latin America which is underrepresented in our study.” (lines 694-696)


            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.

            Authors’ response:

            We have now clarified in the methods that interviewees were selected for their experience in the governance of protected areas and/or understanding their impacts (line 207-208). We did not ask them details on experience e.g. number of years, but given our knowledge of them, they all have at least 10 years experience and many have more than this.


            • 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.

            Authors’ response:

            We have removed the numbers from Table 1, and inserted two bar charts (Figure 2 and Figure 3) showing both the level of support shown by the article for each narrative, and the agreement with the validity of the narrative by the interviewees. Table 1 now focuses on providing summary statements on the evidence for each narrative.


            • Line 506 – missing a space between ‘three showed’

            Authors’ response:

            Amended. Thank you.


            • Lines 576-578 – can you provide the figures behind this conclusion?

            Authors’ response:

            The reviewer is referring to this statement: “we would qualify the narrative somewhat, such that participation supports PA effectiveness where it genuinely empowers communities and provides benefits that are locally valued and equitably distributed.” This conclusion is based on the qualitative appraisal of the evidence in our review (literature and expert interviews) and is preceded by a discussion in the results which we think warrants it.


            Line 725 – space missing in ‘over improvements

            Authors’ response:

            Amended. Thank you.


            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.


            Author and article information

            UCL Open: Environment Preprint
            UCL Press
            25 August 2022
            [1 ] Department of Anthropology, University College London, London, UK
            [2 ] International Institute for Environment and Development, London, UK
            [3 ] EDGE of Existence Programme, Zoological Society London, London, UK
            [4 ] Sowing Diversity = Harvesting Security, Oxfam Novib, The Hague, The Netherlands
            [5 ] School of International Development, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK
            [6 ] Boston College, Morrissey College of the Arts & Sciences, Environmental Studies Program, Chestnut Hill, MA, USA
            [7 ] College of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, Bangor University, Bangor, UK
            [8 ] Law School, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK
            [9 ] Geography Department, King’s College London, London, UK
            Author notes
            Author information

            This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

            : 9 December 2021
            : 7 September 2022
            Natural Environment Research Council NE/P008097/1

            The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available in the repository: https://doi.org/10.5522/04/17153291
            Environmental studies,Development studies
            ecosystem services,social justice,governance,wellbeing,development,People and their environment,poverty,Environmental justice and inequality/inequity,equity,Sustainability,protected areas,Conservation,conservation


            Date: 07 September 2022

            Handling Editor: Dr Jesús Aguirre Gutiérrez

            Editorial decision: Accept. This revised article has been accepted following peer review and it is suitable for publication in UCL Open: Environment.

            2022-09-13 14:55 UTC

            Date: 07 September 2022

            Handling Editor: Dr Jesús Aguirre Gutiérrez

            The article has been revised, this article remains a preprint article and peer-review has not been completed. It is under consideration following submission to UCL Open: Environment for open peer review.

            2022-09-13 14:54 UTC

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