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Exploring the contribution of local communities to protected area law enforcement

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Thursday, January 09, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description


Supervisory team:

Aidan Keane (School of GeoSciences), EJ Milner-Gulland (University of Oxford), Pablo Sinovas (Flora & Fauna International)

Project background:

Protected areas (PAs) are an important tool for conserving biodiversity, but their success depends on effective management. PA managers increasingly seek to involve local communities in efforts to detect and remove threats and to enforce rules about access and resource extraction. This involvement can bring benefits to conservation in terms of improved legitimacy, effectiveness and local support. It can also benefit local community members (e.g. a sense of pride, income, employment), but can involve considerable risks to their personal safety (e.g. from wildlife and lawbreakers). There are many models for involving local community members in PA management. These differ in: their aims; the training and support provided; the extent of responsibility and powers delegated to community members; the relationship with other actors (e.g. professional ranger and police forces); and the benefits received (e.g. prestige, income, tenure security). To date, however, there is no clear understanding of which types of arrangement are most common, which work best under different conditions, and the extent to which multiple objectives for community involvement can simultaneously be met. Focusing on the case-study of a community warden patrol programme in the Cardamom Mountains, this exciting interdisciplinary project will work with Flora & Fauna International (FFI) in Cambodia to explore these issues and to examine how current approaches to involving communities in PA management activities can be improved to produce lasting, mutually beneficial outcomes.

Key research questions:

(1) What are the characteristics of common models for involving communities in the enforcement of protected area rules, and what is the evidence for their costs and benefits?
(2) How effective is the current approach adopted by FFI’s community warden patrol programme:
(a) at detecting and deterring illegal snaring?
(b) at improving the awareness and goodwill of community members towards conservation?
(3) Are there trade-offs or synergies between the different activities community wardens are asked to perform (e.g. between enforcement and engagement roles)?
(4) In practice, how could the involvement of communities in protected area enforcement be adapted to improve outcomes for both conservation and the communities themselves?

Methodology :

This project will use a combination of survey-based methods to address these research questions potentially including structured and semi-structured interviews, key informant interviews and specialised questioning techniques that have been developed to quantify sensitive behaviours (e.g. the randomised response technique and/or the unmatched count technique). Complementing this approach, the project may draw on ideas from behavioural economics, using simple games as a form of experiment to investigate how people’s choices and behaviour vary between controlled scenarios.

Outline timetable: Year 1: Literature review; Training and skills development; Pilot testing survey instruments and other field methods. Year 2: Field work: household surveys, key informant interviews; Year 3: Data analysis and writing-up; Dissemination activities

Funding Notes

We are looking for an enthusiastic candidate with field experience in tropical environments, good quantitative skills, openness to mixed-methods, and a proven track record of working independently. The student will be keen to develop innovative interdisciplinary approaches, have excellent communication skills and experience of conservation in practice.


Cooney, R., Roe, D., Dublin, H., Phelps, J., Wilkie, D., Keane, A., … Biggs, D. (2017). From Poachers to Protectors: Engaging Local Communities in Solutions to Illegal Wildlife Trade: Engage communities against illegal wildlife trade. Conservation Letters, 10(3), 367–374.

Keane, A., Jones, J. P. G., Edwards-Jones, G., & Milner-Gulland, E. J. (2008). The sleeping policeman: understanding issues of enforcement and compliance in conservation. Animal Conservation, 11(2), 75–82.

Roe, D., (2015). Conservation, crime and communities: case studies of efforts to engage local communities in tackling illegal wildlife trade.IIED, London, UK. Available at

St John, F.A.V., Keane, A., Milner-Gulland, E.J. (2013). Effective conservation depends on understanding human behaviour. Ch. 19 in Key Topics in Conservation. Eds: McDonald & Willis. John Wiley & Sons.

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