New publication: On Protected Areas in the Anthropocene

by Selina Treffner

What we (should) know about conservation in the 21st century and why UNESCO biosphere reserves (will) play a big role

In the run-up to the European Day of Parks on 24 May, human geographer Heike Egner and ecologist Michael Jungmeier presented a new publication on “Protected Areas in the Anthropocene”. How can or must protected areas such as national parks, biosphere reserves or world heritage sites be rethought if the environment and society change so rapidly, the two scientists ask themselves. “In view of climate change, for example, ecosystems and altitude levels are shifting, and protected areas remain where they are legally established. This raises interesting questions,” says Jungmeier. The article shows nature conservation strategies that go beyond territorial protection. “In particular, this shows that the concept of UNESCO biosphere reserves is forward-looking, because it removes the dualisms between protecting and using as well as nature and culture,” adds Heike Egner.

The article “Non-Territorial Nature Conservation? On Protected Areas in the Anthropocene” was recently published in the Austrian journal “Mitteilungen der Österreichischen Geographischen Gesellschaft”. The abstract summarises the results as follows:

Protected areas are regarded as central instruments for the implementation of global nature conservation objectives and have been conceived to serve the purpose of conserving and safeguarding biodiversity. Most protected areas have been designated during the past decades and comply with strict territorial considerations: they have strong local roots and are very narrowly defined due to the negotiation processes involved in determining the demarcation, as well as the established administrative boundaries and precise zoning. This method is implicitly based on the assumption of the constancy and immutability of the natural and social environment of protected areas. The following article calls this into question and reveals that the territorial concept of protected areas appears difficult to sustain in light of the complex processes of a constantly changing environment on the one hand, and when viewed against the background of ever-expanding nature conservation objectives, on the other hand. Furthermore, the contribution confronts essential underlying assumptions of nature conservation with complexity-theoretical considerations and illustrates that the basic assumptions pertaining to nature conservation require a fundamental revision, which would also have far-reaching consequences in practical conservation work. The considerations are presented within a framework provided by the thesis of the Anthropocene, which fundamentally challenges established dualisms such as nature/culture.

The article is available for download in full length:


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