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Open Access Highly Accessed Systematic review

Human well-being impacts of terrestrial protected areas

Andrew S Pullin1*, Mukdarut Bangpan2, Sarah Dalrymple1, Kelly Dickson2, Neal R Haddaway1, John R Healey3, Hanan Hauari2, Neal Hockley3, Julia P G Jones3, Teri Knight1, Carol Vigurs2 and Sandy Oliver2

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Evidence-Based Conservation, School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography, Bangor University, LL57 2UW Bangor, Gwynedd, UK

2 Evidence-informed Policy and Practice Information and Coordinating Centre (EPPI-Centre), Institute of Education, University of London, 20 Bedford Way, WC1H 0NR London, UK

3 School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography, Bangor University, LL57 2UW Bangor, Gwynedd, UK

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Environmental Evidence 2013, 2:19  doi:10.1186/2047-2382-2-19

Published: 28 October 2013



Establishing Protected Areas (PAs) is among the most common conservation interventions. Protecting areas from the threats posed by human activity will by definition inhibit some human actions. However, adverse impacts could be balanced by maintaining ecosystem services or introducing new livelihood options. Consequently there is an ongoing debate on whether the net impact of PAs on human well-being at local or regional scales is positive or negative. We report here on a systematic review of evidence for impacts on human well-being arising from the establishment and maintenance of terrestrial PAs.


Following an a priori protocol, systematic searches were conducted for evidence of impacts of PAs post 1992. After article title screening, the review was divided into two separate processes; a qualitative synthesis of explanations and meaning of impact and a review of quantitative evidence of impact. Abstracts and full texts were assessed using inclusion criteria and conceptual models of potential impacts. Relevant studies were critically appraised and data extracted and sorted according to type of impact reported. No quantitative synthesis was possible with the evidence available. Two narrative syntheses were produced and their outputs compared in a metasynthesis.


The qualitative evidence review mapped 306 articles and synthesised 34 that were scored as high quality. The quantitative evidence review critically appraised 79 studies and included 14 of low/medium susceptibility to bias. The meta-synthesis reveals that a range of factors can lead to reports of positive and negative impacts of PA establishment, and therefore might enable hypothesis generation regarding cause and effect relationships, but resulting hypotheses cannot be tested with the current available evidence.


The evidence base provides a range of possible pathways of impact, both positive and negative, of PAs on human well-being but provides very little support for decision making on how to maximise positive impacts. The nature of the research reported to date forms a diverse and fragmented body of evidence unsuitable for the purpose of informing policy formation on how to achieve win-win outcomes for biodiversity and human well-being. To better assess the impacts of PAs on human well-being we make recommendations for improving research study design and reporting.

National Park; Reserve; Community; Governance; Conservation; Poverty; Development; Biodiversity; Systematic review