Biosphere Reserves – Prospects of Innovations or Constraints.Perceptions of farmers in the Biosphere reserves (Salzburger Lungau und Kärntner Nockberge, Val Müstair und Entlebuch)

Funding: Jan 2014 – November 2015

Duration: ÖAW Man and Biosphere Austria & MAB-Schweiz 

Project coordination:Adelheid Humer-Gruber

Biosphere reserves have to fulfil a comprehensive range of tasks and serve as model regions of sustainable regional development. The paradigm shift in conservation strategy integrates stakeholders closely in the decision-making and development processes of protected areas. In the selected Alpine biosphere reserves the conservation of cultural landscapes plays a major role. Local land users feature in many essential functions the biosphere reserves. Integrating local traditional knowledge on ecosystem management and mitigating natural hazards are of highest interest for the biosphere reserves. Farmers rely strongly on natural resources, nevertheless, they often refuse to support protected area management or even organise interest groups to oppose it.

This situation calls for a stronger integration of social-scientific knowledge, hence the incorporation of an emic understanding is essential to detect solutions in this conflict. This research aims to represent the positions of this important stakeholder group from an emic point of view. Qualitative research methods along the grounded theory approach are deemed most appropriate to detect the source of this conflict and to identify social strengths in the area of the biosphere reserves. The research will be based on extended content analysis of existing data on the biosphere reserves and qualitative interviews with land users and experts.

The project will 1) detect the social strengths and barriers in place, 2) analyse and compare the social structures in the different biosphere reserves, 3) reconcile the divergent perceptions and 4) prevent intractable conflicts within the stakeholder groups in biosphere reserves by consolidation of the social strengths, 5) capture local ecological knowledge and consequently foster the integration of local ecological knowledge in the biosphere reserve management.The project specifically focuses on the emic perspective of farmers in the biosphere reserves as a stakeholder group with essential qualities for nature conservation. Their point of view, future prospects and ideas deserve appreciation and require a sensitive approach for better mutual understanding and a learning process that benefits all sides.


Humer-Gruber Heidi (2013). Biosphärenparks – Innovationsmotor oder Hindernis. Wahrnehmung und Sichtweisen von Bäuerinnen und Bauern. IGG Jahresbericht 2011-13: 91-103. Innsbruck.