Forest commons, traditional community ownership and ecological consequences: Insights from Spain

Sara Guadilla-Sáez*, Manuel Pardo-de-Santayana, Victoria Reyes-García

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


With a terrestrial surface increasingly dominated by human activities, conservation scholars nowadays seek to reconcile extractive land uses, such as low-intensity agriculture, forestry or agroforestry, with biodiversity conservation. This approach has been widely adopted by the international forestry community, which advocates for implementing management strategies both favourable to forest biodiversity and economically profitable. Along these lines, considerable attention is being given to the potential of traditional community management for guaranteeing long-term forest-related resources conservation. Here, we extend this line of research to explore whether certain local forms of use and governance of traditional community forests contribute to the conservation of biodiversity-rich habitats by examining the historical evolution of collective property regimes in Spain. The establishment of a political and economic framework by the late eighteen century that did not recognize community ownership as a form of property, largely disrupted the traditional management systems of Spanish community forests, offering a unique context to analyse the ecological consequences of replacing traditional forms of forest use by other management systems. Results of our historical analysis illustrate that the abolition of traditional uses had negative ecological consequences. In the short term, the privatization of forest commons resulted in a decline of forest cover due to the cut of the woodlots acquired by the new owners, causing flooding and soil erosion. In the long term, the limitation of traditional land uses due to State interventionism of the forest commons not privatized seems to have favoured the decline of biodiversity-rich semi-natural habitats dependent on human practices and the simplification of the rural landscape mosaic. These findings further support the idea that traditional community management can provide useful insights for designing forest management strategies reconciling economic benefits and forest biodiversity conservation. Additionally, the historical evolution detailed in this manuscript helps to understand the multiple legacies of community-ownership forests recognized in Spanish present-day legal code.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102107
JournalForest Policy and Economics
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


  • Biodiversity conservation
  • Community forests
  • Forest history
  • Historical review


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