National parks and environmental justice: Comparing access rights and ideological legacies in three countries

Annika Dahlberg, Rick Rohde, Klas Sandell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


National parks are often places where people have previously lived and worked-they have been formed by a combination of natural and human processes that embody an identifiable history of cultural and political values. Conservation of protected areas is primarily about how we perceive such landscapes, how we place differential values on different landscape components, and who gets to decide on these values. Thus, conservation has been and still is very much about issues of power and environmental justice. This paper analyses the social, political and environmental histories of three national park regimes (South Africa, Sweden and Scotland) through the lens of public access rights. We examine the evolving status of access rights-in a broad sense that includes access to land, resources and institutions of governance-as a critical indicator of the extent to which conservation policies and legislation realise the aims of environmental justice in practice. Our case studies illustrate how access rights are contingent on the historical settings and ideological contexts in which the institutions controlling national park management have evolved. Dominant cultural, political and scientific ideologies have given rise to historical precedents and institutional structures that affect the promotion of environmental justice in and around national parks today. In countries where national parks were initially created to preserve perceived 'wilderness', with decisions taken by powerful elites and central authorities, this historical legacy has prevented profound change in line with new policy directives. The comparative analysis of national park regimes, where historical trajectories both converge and diverge, was useful in improving our understanding of contemporary issues involving conservation, people and politics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-224
JournalConservation and Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2010


  • land rights
  • land reform
  • indigenous people
  • protected areas
  • wilderness
  • cultural landscapes
  • South Africa
  • Sweden
  • Scotland


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