The paper presents the results of the study of stakeholders’ opinions and their relation towards protected natural areas as a driving force for sustainable integrated local development in rural areas. Analysis shows that the protected areas are an important resource of the Republic of Croatia and the potential to start and strengthen socio-economic development in rural regions and local communities where they are established. The results show that stakeholders whose daily activities do not include nature protection have less interest in these areas. It is necessary to strengthen the awareness of these stakeholders about the economic and development potentials of protected natural areas, especially related to rural tourism development so the paper highlights the opportunities offered by the model of participative planning and management in local communities. The overall conclusion of this research is that the protected natural areas are still largely viewed through the protection, control and preservation of nature, and therefore seem closed to potential investors and the business sector in general. Involving local communities in the management of protected areas – national and nature parks – will allow local stakeholders to understand the possibilities, significance and role of protected natural areas and ecosystem services in enhancing rural tourism development, their living standards and the overall quality of life.
Republic of Croatia, integrated local development, stakeholder analysis, rural development, protected areas management