Conservation Action 5.2: Land Purchase/Management Agreements
Protecting IBAs by means of acquiring legal rights over the land may be arguably considered one of the most effective and long term interventions. Over the past decades the number of NGOs involved in land purchase/management and the overall size of land owned/managed by conservation organisations has dramatically increased. According to a survey in 2002, the BirdLife network owns/manage over 1 million hectares of land of natural value (a large proportion of it, within IBAs). Many of these areas are managed and branded “private reserves” or “sanctuaries” and, beside their prime conservation objectives, actively used to attract visitors, raise awareness and grow a constituency of people passionate about nature and birds.
Options for the purchase/management of land
In some regions (Pacific islands, large parts of Africa and Asia) most of natural land such as wetlands and forests is classified as tribal or communal and cannot be directly purchased. There are, however, several options that allow a BirdLife organisation to acquire legal ownership or management rights over a site, determining a land use favourable or compatible with conservation objectives for the area and its biodiversity. This can be achieved through:
- actual purchase of the land;
- acquisition of a concession, license or other forms of temporary legal rights according to the local legislation;
- co-management of formally Protected Areas;
- management agreements with local authorities and governments;
- management agreements/lease with owner(s);
- conservation easement agreements with the owner(s).
Ownership/Authority over the land
Depending on the local circumstances the land can be:
- directly owned/managed by the BirdLife Partner;
- managed through agreements with other NGOs
- owned/managed by the establishment of an ad hoc legal entity (NGO, Foundation, Company, etc.) according to legal requirements and appropriate circumstances
A direct control over the management and protection of the site can offer the BirdLife Partner a number of desirable and positive outcomes in addition to the expected high conservation impact. This includes the opportunity to raise profile, membership and funds underpinning the development of the whole organisation. It can also help the BirdLife organisation to advocate more effectively for the legal protection of the site (or even of a larger area of which the site is part) by becoming effectively a local “stakeholder” in the eyes of the authorities and local communities.
Limits & risks
The most obvious limitation of this approach to site conservation is related to the low number of sites which might be secured through purchase/agreements due to availability of land for sale/rent and the high purchasing/renting and long term management costs. Few organisations can afford these costs, and many others concentrate their financial efforts on the identification and initial purchase, underestimating the long term ongoing management costs. Solutions, such as the establishment of trust funds dedicated to the management of the site, have been successfully implemented in a number of cases although there is also a limit to how many of these funds can be realistically established by one organisation. Finally the direct legal control over a specific area can expose the NGO to a number of challenges of which it should be well aware and equipped to deal with, including, for example, conflicts with local communities or unforeseen development plans that can impact the site, for which the organisation will have to take full responsibility. Failure in adequately dealing with these issues may result in the damage to the organisation’s image and reputation.
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