Human Well-being Impacts of Terrestrial Protected Areas

Publication Details

Pullin, A.S., Bangpan. M., Dalrymple, S., Dickson, K., Haddaway, N.R., Healey, J.R., Hauari, H., Hockley, N., Jones, J.P.G. Knight, T., Vigurs, C. and Oliver, S. (2013) Human well-being impacts of terrestrial protected areas. Environmental Evidence, 2(19).

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Andrew S. Pullin, Mukdarut Bangpan, Sarah Dalrymple, Kelly Dickson, Neal R. Haddaway, John R. Healey, Hanan Hauari, Neal Hockley, Julia P. G. Jones, Teri Knight, Carol Vigurs, Sandy Oliver
East Asia and Pacific (includes South East Asia), South Asia, Europe and CIS, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, Developed Countries
Agriculture and Rural Development, Urban Development, Environment and Disaster Management, Multisector
Rural Land Reform, Environmental Institutions , Community Action Program, Community Driven Development, Urban Land Reform, Urban Development and Management
Equity Focus
Review Type
Effectiveness review

Main findings

Headline Findings: a summary statement

The authors found that terrestrial protected areas can have both positive and negative effects on human well-being, but there is insufficient evidence to draw conclusions about how to maximise positive impacts.

Evidence Base

The authors included 79 studies in a review of quantitative evidence, and 34 studies in a synthesis of qualitative evidence. The majority of studies included in the quantitative analysis were assessed as having high risk of bias. 

Implications for policy and practice

The lack of well designed studies limits the extent to which evidence can be used to inform the design of future programmes. Existing studies suffer from a range of limitations and are too diverse to allow for an overall conclusion about effects on human well-being outcomes, or to identify factors associated with more or less effective programmes. 

Implications for further research

The authors call for a coordinated programme of research efforts in the future, as the current evidence base is patchy. There is a need for a series of standard measures of human well-being so that data can be compared. Further research should also compare different types of protected area to each other. The authors advise funders to outline some minimum methodological standards for both qualitative and quantitative research. In terms of methodology, the authors say that future research should report the location of the study site, data collection tools, method of sample selection and times and duration of sampling. They also suggest it is important for statisticians to be involved in designing experiments. Baseline assessment where protected areas have been established or changed should also be carried out to allow before-and-after comparison.


Conservation policies commonly involve the practice of protecting areas of land from human activity to preserve habitats and prevent species extinction. This can have both negative and positive effects on human well-being; for example, loss of land can lead to loss of livelihood while increased tourism can lead to creation of jobs. The debate about the effects of protected areas is ongoing.

Research objectives

To determine the impacts of terrestrial protected areas on human well-being, and the distribution of, and variation in, costs and benefits of protected areas for local communities.


The authors searched for studies of the impact of protected areas on human well-being that were published between 1992 and May 2013. Inclusion criteria were as follows: the community or human population had to be living (or lived) near the terrestrial protected area, data had to be collected during or after 1992 and the protected area had to be established or changed according to IUCN classifications I-VI as defined in the World Database of Protected Areas. Randomised controlled trials, controlled trials, control intervention site comparisons, interrupted time series, before-after-control-intervention designs, observational studies, economic studies and studies assessing PA factors that influence human well-being or people’s views about PAs and human well-being were included. The studies had to obtain data through direct measurement or respondent self-reports. The quantitative studies had to include temporal, spatial or hypothetical comparators. The authors searched the following databases: Web of Knowledge, Scopus, Agricola, CAB abstracts, PubMed, Econlit, Directory of Open Access Journals, LILACS, and 33 relevant stakeholder websites.

Quality assessment

The review have clear inclusion criteria, a comprehensive search and screening process, extensive data collection and appropriate methods of synthesis. While meta-analysis was not feasible the authors provide a good summary of the available evidence, avoiding the pitfalls of vote counting. The authors make the limitations of the existing evidence base clear and provide detailed recommendations for future studies.

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