Stifled Stakeholders and Subdued Participation: Interpreting Local Responses Toward Shimentai Nature Reserve in South China
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In recent decades, protected-area management in many developing countries has been molded to win the support and participation of local people. Increasingly, research initiatives are undertaken to enhance understanding of the perceptions and attitudes of rural stakeholders. The effectiveness of the expanding protected-area system in China is critically constrained by similar considerations of community mentality. This paper provides an empirical assessment of local responses towards conservation efforts based on a case study of the recently established Shimentai Nature Reserve (SNR) situated in Yingde, Guangdong Province, China. Questionnaire surveys, face-to-face interviews, and group discussions were employed to gauge local residents' knowledge, perceptions, and expectations towards the SNR. The study covered seven villages situated in and around the reserve, grouped into far-zone (floodplain) and near-zone (upland) categories, accommodating Hakka (Han) and minority Yao peoples. Many respondents had inadequate knowledge, understanding, and perceptions of the reserve. Although most respondents welcomed the expected park-related dividends, the most affected near-zone villagers anticipated losses due to restriction on traditional resource-extraction activities in the forest. The local expectations were influenced by place of residence, emigration of rural young, and household affluence. The lack of local participation in management and inadequate dissemination of information posed obstacles to effective conservation. The high expectation of accruing benefits from development projects, including tourism, might be misplaced and might not be realized. The present honeymoon period of positive attitudes could end soon if the hopes remain unfulfilled for too long. The need to win sustained local support and provide alternative means of livelihood is emphasized.
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