Conservation and social outcomes of private protected areas

Rachel Palfrey, Johan Oldekop, George Holmes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Government administered protected areas (PAs) have dominated conservation strategies, discourse, and research, yet private actors are increasingly managing land for conservation. Little is known about the social and environmental outcomes of these privately protected areas (PPAs). We searched the global literature in English on PPAs and their environmental and social outcomes and identified 412 articles suitable for inclusion. Research on PPAs was geographically skewed; more studies occurred in the United States. Environmental outcomes of PPAs were mostly positive (89%), but social outcomes of PPAs were reported less (12% of all studies), and these outcomes were more mixed (65% positive). Private protected areas increased the number or extent of ecosystems, ecoregions, or species covered by PAs (representativeness) and PA network connectivity and effectively reduced deforestation and restored degraded lands. Few PPA owners reported negative social outcomes, experienced improved social capital, increased property value, or a reduction in taxes. Local communities benefited from increased employment, training, and community-wide development (e.g., building of schools), but they reported reduced social capital and no significant difference to household income. The causal mechanisms through which PPAs influence social and environmental outcomes remain unclear, as does how political, economic, and social contexts shape these mechanisms. Future research should widen the geographical scope and diversify the types of PPAs studied and focus on determining the casual mechanisms through which PPA outcomes occur in different contexts. We propose an assessment framework that could be adopted to facilitate this process.

Original languageEnglish
JournalConservation Biology
Early online date19 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jan 2021


  • conservation easements
  • ecotourism reserves
  • neoliberal conservation
  • private game reserves
  • privately protected areas
  • protected area governance
  • protected area impacts

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global Development Institute


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