Being fairer improves conservation in protected areas: a new toolkit shows how

Julia Baker

Working on biodiversity initiatives for industry, I’m used to ‘translating’ jargon-heavy research findings into real world action in my job; but it’s always challenging.  All too often there’s a gap between research-led recommendations and the real world, where the recommended actions must fit with everything else going on, and still work when the unpredictable happens.

This is a particular problem for protected area conservation. There’s brilliant research describing the difficulties facing protected areas, and how these might be overcome, but often the practical recommendations are a few brief sentences. That leaves practitioners with very little, if anything, to go on.

One of such difficulties is managing protected areas ‘equitably’. It is more than a moral obligation: it’s a necessity for effective and sustainable conservation.  So what is ‘equity’ and how do we achieve it?  The new ‘Fairer, Better’ toolkit provides practical advice.

On 25th May 2016, the International Institute of Environment and Development launched the ‘Fairer, Better’ toolkit in Uganda at an event attended by the Uganda Wildlife Authority and various NGOs working in conservation and development. The toolkit can be used for any protected area and the full variety of integrated conservation and development (ICD) interventions that exist.  It’s for those involved with designing and implementing an ICD, either for a specific protected area or more strategically, for example planning conservation at a regional level.

A basket weaver in Bwindi
A basket weaver in Bwindi, part of a Multiple Use ICD programme (Photo credit: May Shirkhorshidi)

Protectionist problems

The history of protected area management is well known.  Protecting nature by ‘locking it away’ often had devastating consequences for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities.   A tremendous amount of work then brought human rights to the fore and now ‘equitably managed’ protected areas and ‘fair and equitable distribution of benefits’ are key elements of the Convention of Biological Diversity’s (CBD’s) Programme of Works on Protected Areas.

But equitable management of protected areas is more than a moral obligation. Recent research sheds new light on why equity is also vital for ensuring conservation works. For example, in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, local feelings of injustice over national park conservation are as important as poverty in driving illegal activities.

So the question now is how do we actually ‘do’ equitable protected area conservation? The new toolkit ‘Fairer, Better’ sets out to bridge the gap between ‘knowing’ and ‘doing’.  It particularly aims to support Uganda’s leading work on ICD by turning research findings from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park into practical advice.  It also aims to help a wider readership better understand how fairness can make protected areas more effective and sustainable.

The edge of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
The edge of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, where feelings of injustice and poverty are driving illegal resource use (Photo credit: Mariel Harrison)

Principled approach

ICD strives to conserve protected areas by helping the rural poor in ways that also support conservation.  The toolkit starts by describing concepts that underpin ICD such as poverty alleviation and poverty reduction, so as to help practitioners ensure they and their stakeholders share a common understanding from the start.  Missing this stage can lead to misunderstandings that holds things back, especially over the term ‘equity’.  Equity is commonly understood as sharing the costs and benefits from protected area conservation fairly. But, as the toolkit describes, it’s actually about a wider range of principles (including recognition and respect for human rights) that underpin truly equitable protected area conservation.

Next the toolkit summarises the wealth of knowledge in Uganda about successes and challenges when using the ICD approach by presenting case studies.  These include a study at Kibale National Park that showed sharing tourism-generated revenue with local communities lowered illegal activities in the park when the revenue specifically mitigated crop raiding by wild animals through various means, including planting inedible crops along the national park boundary.  Another case study showed that local people around Queen Elizabeth National Park supported efforts to conserve lions because they expected economic benefits from tourism revenue sharing.  However they also thought retaliatory lion-killing was justifiable, as they do not receive any compensation when lions kill or harm their livestock or family.  These case studies offer learning that practitioners can use to improve future work.  

Pragmatic advice

The final section contains guidance sheets that practitioners can use to better understand and predict how effective their ICD intervention will be (Figure 1).  The sheets are presented as steps to follow, while each one can be used individually.  Each sheet asks questions and encourages practitioners to record the answers so that these build a picture of how an ICD intervention will achieve its objectives.  The toolkit offers examples of completed sheets that show how practitioners can make ICD more effective by designing and implementing interventions from a fairness point of view.

We in the research community need to support those ‘doing the doing’ by helping them to better understand and apply research findings.  This toolkit is a great start.  Hopefully there’ll be many more to come.

The guidance sheets from the ’Fairer, Better’ toolkit
Figure 1. The guidance sheets from the ’Fairer, Better’ toolkit

  By Julia Baker

Download the toolkit from:

Fairer, better. A guide to more effective Integrated Conservation and Development in Uganda

Publications to link with:

Enhancing equity and fairness (IIED guest blog)

Advancing equity in protected area conservation

Enhancing equity within conservation: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Workshop Report