ELCN workshop participants, Madrid 2018

Workshop on incentives for private land conservation

Incentives for Private Land Conservation 

From 5-7 November 2018, the ELCN organised a Workshop on Incentives for Private Land Conservation in Madrid, Spain.

To many, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of incentives are financial tools. However at the ELCN's workshop on the subject, it turned out the motivations were manifold, ranging from conservation ideals to sentiment and tradition. Interestingly, studies have shown that financial motivations often rank at the bottom of the list of reasons for private land conservation. During the workshop this was confirmed with both the results of a global level scientific research and a practical example from Burren in Ireland. Nevertheless, financial incentives play an important role in the framework of this study, as they can be easily influenced through public policy. A landowner’s decision whether or not to conserve natural features on her or his land can also be influenced by negative expectations about the legal consequences such activities can bring. In some cases, by triggering automatic protection of a habitat or species' occurrence and ensuing legal restrictions of land use practices when the conservation work undertaken by the landowner has been successful and a protected species or habitat occurs, conservation legislation can disincentivise voluntary conservation measures. In this sense, the workshop also looked at the reasons keeping landowners from conserving nature on their land. It explored the potential of conservation organisations and public authorities to create positive incentives for motivating private landowners to engage in nature conservation on their land. Additionally it examined and compared various tools for creating such incentives: fiscal tools that reward conservation on private land (e.g. taxes, subsidies), technical/structural incentives (e.g. regional branding and marketing, improved resource management, access to volunteers), and legal incentives (planning reliability, exemption from environmental liability, temporary waiver of species protection, or ballot measures). The workshop presented some best-practice examples of incentivising private land conservation, but it has also touched upon the potential areas of conflict (e.g. national subsidies for conservation and state-aid). 

By learning about examples from outside of Europe (i.e. tax incentives and ballot measures in the United States), the workshop provided the opportunity to discuss if similar incentive mechanisms could potentially work in Europe as well, and whether a network such as ELCN could help to realise this. 

In order to expand and improve private land conservation, a better understanding of the underlying motivations for private landowners to engage in conservation is essential. The workshop helped practitioners to exchange their knowledge and experience of these motivations and give a voice to private landowners to explain what makes them conserve land and what keeps them from doing so.