A project between WWF and local NGOs, to conserve the rich biological and cultural diversity of the Rhodope mountains in Bulgaria, engaged local people in dialogue via a participatory rural appraisal (PRA) workshop in 1993. This paper examined the reasons why the enthusiasm shown at the workshop did not materialise into the proposed system of participatory forest management facilitated by a network of PRA facilitators. Representatives of the local NGOs had a technical bias and were inexperienced in working with local people on a basis of equality. WWF failed to appreciate the huge commitment required to support functioning community-based management. Lastly, Bulgaria was experiencing rapid political change and uncertainty over future forest policy.