Participation and Legitimacy : Actor Involvement for Nature Conservation

Abstract: This PhD thesis in environmental science aims to contribute to the theoretical and empirical understanding of the relation between participation and legitimacy in multi-level environmental governance.It is widely assumed that actor involvement has great potential to improve the legitimacy of nature conservation through long-term acceptance and target achievement. However, local resource conflicts problematize the way a relation between participation and legitimacy is depicted on other administrative levels. Studies exploring the effect that participation has on legitimacy are relatively rare, especially in multi-level arrangements of coastal conservation.In this thesis the relation between participation and legitimacy on the local level is examined, as well as how this relation is conditioned by multi-level governance and power. The relation is empirical studied with two local implementation processes of the Helsinki Convention’s network of marine protected areas (HELCOM MPAs). The cases are located in Sweden.Sweden and the Baltic Sea region are in the forefront of participation in nature conservation, and therefore act as a strong case for the exploration of institutional participation. However, despite apparent political will and international support, the efficiency of actor involvement for nature conservation has been questioned, also for the HELCOM MPA and especially on the local level.Based on the results of this study, I question the assumption that weak legitimacy predominantly is an issue of insufficient information sharing. The findings show that involving actors to legitimize the adoption of strict adherence to a pre-established model of conservation likely fails to create long term support for conservation. Instead, relocation of power to the affected actors seems essential in order to make participation establish legitimacy. It appears important to create room for local influence in the design, management and implementation of a particular conservation area in the particular place/context. In both examined cases, there are elements of participation that support legitimacy, for example the development of a shared vision. There are also elements that hamper legitimacy, such as, for example, the high expectations different actors have on participation to reach consensus on protective values. These unmet expectations seem to fuel conflicts of interests among actors on different levels.