Nepal has a number of wetlands in the lowland region of the country along the southern Indo-Nepalese border that have experienced great pressures from growing human populations due in part to migration of people from the mountains. A questionnaire survey and informal interviews with key informants in 1998 were used to explore the socio-economic status of indigenous and non-indigenous inhabitants, use patterns of forest and wetland resources and attitudes about conservation in Ghodaghodi Lake, a proposed Ramsar site, in the lowlands of western Nepal. Tharus, indigenous to the region, represented 33% of the population; the rest were migrants from the mountains. Tharus had lower literacy rates, larger landholdings and kept different livestock species. Most Tharu families were dependent on extraction from wetlands; all groups used forests for fuelwood but mountain settlers used forests for fodder more than did Tharus. Most respondents expressed willingness to participate in the conservation of Ghodaghodi Lake; however, only 12%, mostly mountain settlers, had ever participated in formal conservation activities. Conservation attitudes were strongly influenced by educational level and resource use. Educated males of higher caste and mountain origin who had previously participated in formal management activities were more positive towards conservation than other groups. There is a need to implement a participatory integrated management plan, to include community development, education and off-farm income generation, to assure participation of Tharus and lower caste households of mountain origin in the conservation and management of wetlands and forests in the area.