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Open Access Research

Challenges to conservation: land use change and local participation in the Al Reem Biosphere Reserve, West Qatar

Paul Sillitoe12*, Ali A Alshawi1 and Abdul K Al-Amir Hassan1

Author Affiliations

1 Qatar University, Doha, Qatar

2 Durham University, Durham, UK

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Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 2010, 6:28  doi:10.1186/1746-4269-6-28

Published: 21 October 2010


One response to humanity's unsustainable use of natural resources and consequent degradation, even destruction of the environment, is to establish conservation areas to protect Nature and preserve biodiversity at least in selected regions. In Qatar, the government has shown strong support for this approach, confronted by the environmental consequences of oil and gas extraction and rapid urban development, by designating about one-tenth of the country a conservation area. Located in the west of the peninsula, it comprises the Al Reem Reserve, subsequently declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Several approaches have figured in conservation, currently popular is co-management featuring participation of the local population, which recognises that people's activities often contribute to today's environment, with the promotion of bio-cultural diversity. However, these assumptions may not hold where rapid social and cultural change occurs, as in Qatar. We explore the implications of such change, notably in land use. We detail changes resulting with the move from nomadic to sedentary lifestyles: in land access, which now features tribal-state control, and herding strategies, which now feature migrant labour and depend on imported fodder and water, underwritten by the country's large gas and oil revenues. Current stocking arrangements - animals herded in much smaller areas than previously - are thought responsible for the degradation of natural resources. The place of animals, notably camels, in Qatari life, has also changed greatly, possibly further promoting overstocking. Many local people disagree. What are the implications of such changes for the participatory co-management of conservation areas? Do they imply turning the clock back to centrally managed approaches that seek to control access and local activities?