Environmental Conservation

THEMATIC SECTION: Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM): designing the next generation (Part 2)

The role of community participation in the effectiveness of UNESCO Biosphere Reserve management: evidence and reflections from two parallel global surveys


a1 Global Centre for Biosphere Reserve Advancement and Institute of Geography and Geology, Ernst-Moritz-Arndt University Greifswald, Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Strasse 16, D-17487 Greifswald, Germany

a2 Stockholm Resilience Centre and Department of Systems Ecology, Stockholm University, SE-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden


Biodiversity management has traditionally followed two contradictory approaches. One champions ecosystem protection through rigorous law enforcement and exclusion of humans. The other promotes community-based sustainable use of natural resources. Participatory conservation, a major paradigm shift, nowadays strongly guides the concept of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves (BRs). In this paper, the rationale for community participation, and the perception of its effectiveness among BR managers are analysed. Within the World Network of BRs (553 sites in 107 countries) diverse participatory approaches are being tried to advance community-based natural resource management (CBNRM). Data from two parallel surveys, involving managers from 276 BRs worldwide, reveal how far this participation paradigm shift has really occurred, and its influence on managers’ self-evaluated effectiveness. There is substantial regional disparity, although in general BR managers endorse inclusive conservation, despite critical implementation hurdles. The process of participatory conservation carries new dangers for effective biosphere reserve management, when the aspirations of communities and other stakeholders do not ‘fit’ with a predetermined interpretation of sustainable development.

(Received September 08 2009)

(Accepted February 26 2010)

(Online publication June 02 2010)


c1 Correspondence: Professor Dr Susanne Stoll-Kleemann Tel: + 49 3834 86 4680 Fax: + 49 3834 86 4681 e-mail: susanne.stoll-kleemann@uni-greifswald.de