Through a multi-day engagement with local women, men, girls and boys, as well as rangers and Sheikhs from the reserve's surrounding communities, IUCN ensured a space for the voices of local peoples in the future management of AlUla’s largest nature reserve. 

In the otherworldly landscapes surrounding the Saudi Arabian oasis city of AlUla, stories of the coexistence of people with the natural environment are written at every turn. Rock art depicting camels and red-necked ostriches jostle for space with ancient Arabic texts etched in the stone. Mustatils, keyhole shaped enclosures used to entrap herds, signal customary grazing lands on the high volcanic plateaus of Harrat Uwayrid. The two million date palms that unravel like a green carpet for 20 kilometres provide shade, sustenance and a strong agricultural economy for the villagers of the valley below. 

In such a place, where people have carefully managed the natural landscape for so many millennia, the Participatory 3D Modelling approach is the latest effort to ensure the continuity of the communities’ governance of resources in modern, changing times. AlUla’s six nature reserves, established over the past few decades and encompassing a significant portion of the county's lands, are not only a haven for gazelles, Nubian ibex and Arabian wolves, but also for the people that call them home. 

Over the course of five days from Oct. 22-26, 2023, the team from IUCN Regional Office for West Asia (ROWA) in Jordan, with the dedicated support of the IUCN headquarters in Switzerland, engaged women, men, rangers and chief of tribes in a participatory mapping activity at the Harrat Uwayrid Nature Reserve. Local community members played a vital role in identifying and marking various significant sites on a 3.6m x 4.4m 3D model, encompassing everything from leisure areas and hunting grounds to cultural heritage sites, camel racing locations, and eagle nests, ensuring a holistic representation of their land's values and resources. 

Men participate in the P3DM. Charlie Tokeley.

Men, women and rangers all inputted on the 3D model.

“Participatory 3D Modelling gives local community members a space to express their needs, concerns and visions for protected areas or other territories”, noted Dr. Ulrika Åberg, Senior Programme Officer for IUCN in charge of the activity. “This comprehensive community engagement exercise has captured profound local knowledge about species, natural and cultural values and ecosystem services. The contributions of local women have been an integral part to the success of the activity. They have enriched common understanding of traditional management practices, highlighting ways to uphold these practices through sustainable development and enhanced services in the area.” 


The resulting 3D model, and the catalogue of information that it contains through multi-coloured yarns, labels and pins, will be converted into a digital map that can inform local decision making, development and protected area policy for the Harrat Uwayrid Nature Reserve. 

In addition to the Participatory 3D Model, youth were involved in the initiative through a parallel Youth Media and Storytelling workshop. Fifteen boys and eighteen girls between the age of 16 to 18 were trained in techniques ranging from written storytelling, interview techniques, and cell phone photography over the course of four mornings, with a field visit to local heritage and natural sites on the final day to put these techniques into practice. The ultimate outcome was to assemble their work into a final exhibition on the workshop closing ceremony. The women resulting story posters focused on topics ranging from the collection of wild herbs and medicinal plants to the importance of sustainable wildlife management derived from local Islamic tradition. 

Charlie Tokeley, Communications Officer for IUCN who coordinated the youth component, noted the need to incorporate youth into community engagement. “In ten years’ time, these same youth will be the principal users of these lands and resources. Storytelling exercises such as these enable them to engage with older generations, learn more about their own cultures and surrounding wild areas, and be passionate advocates for their sustainable use and preservation, whilst having fun in doing so.” 

Through a blend of creativity and cultural exploration, the youth of Harrat Uwayrid, have demonstrated their invaluable role in safeguarding and narrating the rich tapestry of their land's traditional uses and stories. The successful implementation and outcomes of specialised workshops on storytelling and creative composition, underscore the essentiality of youth engagement in protected area management in alignment with IUCN's strategic vision to integrate local communities in conservation efforts. This participatory approach is an affirmation that, when equipped with the right tools and platforms, the younger generations become an integral force for conservation, cultural and natural preservation, and sustainable development. 

“I have no words to describe how much I am thankful for you and how this workshop has changed my life. I will make sure to work with you in the future, and this is a promise. I now know what my mission in life is, and I will work hard to attain it”- Layan, one of the young female participants in the youth workshop. 

The results of both the Participatory 3D Modelling and the Youth Media and Storytelling workshops were presented by the communities at the closing ceremony on October 26th to representatives from the Royal Commission of AlUla (RCU), local NGOs, and media. This initiative will inform the preparation of the management plans that IUCN and RCU are in the process of developing for each of AlUla’s six protected areas.  

The Participatory 3D Modelling and Youth Media and Storytelling activities highlight the effective partnership between IUCN ROWA and the RCU under the AlUla Protected Areas Network Project for well-governed and effectively managed protected areas. This partnership contributes to both AlUla's development and Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, emphasising community participation and knowledge integration in the management of protected areas.  

Final story poster produced by one of the girls youth groups. Charlie Tokeley.