Funding source: National Centre for Research and Development (Poland), European Union, Norwegian Research Council

Sustainable land use requires outcomes that are both environmentally responsible and socially acceptable.  Governments may institute biodiversity protection policies based on sound environmental science, but these strategies are ineffective without public support and compliance.

UQ research has found that the best way to understand which options are socially acceptable is to involve people in participatory mapping. This helps them to identify what they appreciate about where they live and their preferences for future land use.

Determining which ecosystem services and landscape values are most important to a community helps to inform policy with social as well as scientific perspectives. Understanding how to engage local communities in conservation is critical if integrated strategies for managing cultural and natural values are to succeed.

Associate Professor Greg Brown has pioneered methods in this process, also known as public participation in geographic information systems (PPGIS).

He's working with an international consortium to improve national park governance and landscape protection systems in Poland and Norway, using PPGIS protocols and technologies.

It’s one of the first multi-country PPGIS efforts to study how local culture and environment influence the acceptance of protected area management.

The results will help the newly established protected area management boards in Norway strengthen collaboration with users. Global knowledge about the factors affecting the adoption of conservation practices will also be expanded.

One of the key findings to date is that trust in governments can influence how well the public cooperates with national park governance and landscape protection.

“The European Landscape Convention promotes the protection, management and planning of European landscapes, but implementation is country-specific,” Dr Brown said.

“Poland and Norway, for example, offer contrasting systems of landscape protection.

“Norway has devolved regulatory control of national parks to local governments, while Poland maintains national regulatory control over national parks.

“We’ve found that Norwegians have greater trust in their governments than Polish people have in theirs, and the former are more likely to adapt their land use practices to comply with landscape protection plans,” he said.

Public trust in governance is one of the barriers the researchers are hoping to overcome with PPGIS. Their mapping methods range from simple mark-ups on hard-copy maps to sophisticated internet applications. As data collection continues, they are also developing new protocols and technologies to elicit support for biodiversity governance.