National parks are established to reduce human influence on nature and contribute to species conservation, biodiversity and ecological services. Other states of protection like the UNESCO world heritage sites, for example, are created for maintaining culturally important places or lifestyles. In the Matobo Hills (Zimbabwe) both states of protection are present, a national park and a world heritage site. In addition, the land outside the National Park belongs to two different systems of ownership, namely “common” (i.e. community-owned) and “not-common” (privately or governmentally owned) land.
In this paper, we investigated how the state of protection and the ownership affected the land use and land cover. We derived maps using Landsat images from 1989, 1998 and 2014 by supervised classification with Random Forests. To compensate for the lack of ground data we inferred past land use and land cover from recent observations combining photographs, Google Earth images and change detection. We could identify four classes, namely shrub land, forest, patchy vegetation and agricultural area.
The Matobo National Park showed a stable composition of land cover during the study period and the main changes were observable in the surroundings. Outside the national park, forest increased by about 7%. The common lands have changed substantially and their agricultural area decreased. We attribute this development to the Fast Track Land Reform, which took place in the early 2000s. Our approach shows that combining information on recent land cover with change detection allows to study the temporal development of protected areas.