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Social-ecological Resilience and Biodiversity Conservation in a 900-year-old Protected Area

Adrian C Newton, Bournemouth University


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Protected areas are increasingly being recognized as coupled social-ecological systems, whose effectiveness depends on their resilience. Here I present a historical profile of an individual case study, the New Forest (England), which was first designated as a protected area more than 900 years ago. Uniquely, a traditional pattern of land use has been maintained ever since, providing a rare opportunity to examine the resilience of an integrated social-ecological system over nine centuries. The New Forest demonstrates that over the long term, coupled social-ecological systems can be resilient to major internal and external shocks, including climate change, mass human mortality and war. Changes in governance had the greatest impact on the reserve itself, with two major crises identified in the mid-19th and 20th centuries. Resolution of these crises depended on the formation of alliances between local people and external partners, including the general public, a process that was supported by improvements in visitor access. Over a timescale of centuries, this social-ecological system has been highly dynamic in disturbance regimes but relatively stable in land use patterns. However, the factors underpinning resilience have changed over time. This case study suggests that for protected areas to be effective over the long term, social structures and institutions as well as environmental processes require adaptive capacity.

Key words

biodiversity conservation; effectiveness; protected area; resilience; social-ecological systems

Copyright © 2011 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087