Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve (Biscay, Spain): Conservation against development?

Sci Total Environ. 2017 Aug 15:592:124-133. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.03.076. Epub 2017 Mar 17.


The protected area approach has extended from conserving biodiversity to improving human well-being. However, the relationship between conservation and socioeconomic and cultural development continues to be controversial. This paper combines land use variables with socioeconomic and cultural variables through multivariate ordination analysis and evaluates their evolution in two areas inside and outside a Biosphere Reserve since the approval of the Governance Plan for Use and Management in the Reserve. The results indicate a similar tendency in the two areas, from the abandonment of traditional rural activities and decline in pine plantations to naturalness, urban sprawl and the growth of the tertiary economic sector, welfare indicators and sustainability index. However, it can be broadly observed that the region included inside the protected area presents better conservation features (native forest) and rural systems (forestry and primary economic sector) than the region outside the protected area while maintaining similar socioeconomic and cultural conditions. We suggest that the designation of the Biosphere Reserve does not influence the local population negatively but does safeguard its conservation, which could have enhanced socioeconomic and cultural development. Thus, even though certain changes must be made to replace the conifer plantations and encourage agricultural activities, the designation of the protected area fulfills its sustainability goal and enhances the local population's quality of life.

Keywords: Biosphere Reserve management; Conservation; Land use changes; Local development; Social-ecological system.

MeSH terms

  • Biodiversity*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Forestry
  • Quality of Life
  • Spain