Natural protected areas today represent 12% of the world's surface and are increasing. The question is: who controls them and how are they being managed? Are protected areas a solution for ecological imbalance or are they another kind of (post)colonial enterprise and nationalisation of space?
More than 12% of the world's surface was designated as protected natural areas during the 20th century. In the Middle Ages, special preserves were the province of nobles. In the 19th century, protected areas derived from national mythologies and territorial divisions; outside Europe the same idea was connected with colonial enterprise and control of resources. Later, ecological and biological arguments came to the forefront, especially after the 1992 Rio de Janeiro declaration on protection of nature in situ. The European Union incorporated these values in the Nature 2000 programme. We can conclude that the natural sciences and managers of protected areas today control this 12% of the planet's surface, protecting mainly its biological diversity. Inhabitants of "diversity islands" are presumably a matter of other interests (social, economic, cultural, etc.) and therefore attract little (natural, scientific) attention. Moreover, they can easily become victims of political and economic superstructures, which may in fact be connected with opinion makers from the natural sciences, the keepers of natural wealth and diversity. Protected areas around the world lack anthropological attention, even though they offer excellent examples of ambivalent and contested interpretations and power relations in smaller and larger social contexts. Inhabitants of this 12%, consisting mainly of rural areas, ¬cannot be seen only as another resource (economic point of view) or as a threat to the environment (biological point of view). Territorial redefinition should be accompanied by analyses of local (ecological) knowledge, social networks and ideologies, economic histories and migrations, in national and international frameworks.