Long-term stewardship of private lands: the importance of non-financial incentives
While financial incentives may be important for increasing uptake of private land conservation, they do not necessarily engender stewardship values
Private land programs would be better served by focusing on proper implementation, continued extension support, building capacity to manage lands for biodiversity and create networks between landowners
A multiple-mechanism mix will enhance the potential for long-term ecological benefits
Changing human behaviour is fundamental to the success of conservation programs. Fostering an ethic of ‘stewardship’ on private land is one form of behaviour change increasingly being sought to protect key biodiversity areas. When planning private land conservation (PLC) initiatives, multiple incentives are employed to attract landowners into short-term and long-term conservation contracts. These different incentives are used to entice different types of landowners. They also cater to the different motivations or drivers landowners have for participating. Given the long-term horizons for biodiversity conservation, we were curious to discover which incentives contribute to long-term stewardship. Long-term outcomes are important given uncertain political support for conservation initiatives across many local- and national-level governments.
Through our research we sought to understand how programs and their incentives contributed to participation and the continued management of lands for biodiversity. We interviewed 113 landowners across three different program types and contexts:
- the Biodiversity Stewardship Program a long- and short-term conservation contract program in the Western Cape of South Africa;
- the Greenfleet biodiverse carbon-offset program in Victoria, Australia; and
- EcoTender, a reverse auction and covenanting program run by the Victorian State Government.
Why do people participate in private land conservation?
We found that across the three studied programs, landowners had a pre-existing stewardship ethic that forms the basis of an environmental identity (this finding is supported by previous research). Financial incentives may help in increasing participation by reducing barriers to uptake and to pay for management projects, but for participants across these three programs, financial incentives were not a main driver to participation. We found over 90% of respondents participate because they care about their land and desire to restore and protect it (often in perpetuity). The mechanism that protects the land (eg, via a covenant or easement) becomes a main incentive to join. As one EcoTender participant put it: “Because [the restoration is] something I would have done anyway but I think the real bait for me was the covenant. If I did all this [work] and after I’ve gone somebody buys the land and knocks it all over, what’s the point [of restoration]?”
What drives continued participation and management?
When we asked what drives continued participation, again common themes emerged among the three programs. We found that satisfaction with the program was overwhelmingly dependent on continued delivery of management support and a perceived efficacy of program participation.
In the Biodiversity Stewardship Program, those that were dissatisfied felt that they had ‘held up their end of the bargain’ but CapeNature (the implementing agency) had not; its input had amounted to very few visits by an extension officer.
Across all three programs, landowners wanted more extension support to help build their capacity in managing their land, supporting their sense of self-efficacy, which is vital to behavior change. In both the Victorian programs, the advice and assistance provided to landowners through property visits from extension officers was ranked as an important aspect of the program, but happened informally as there was not a formalized role for extension support.
Networks of connection
Landowners also wanted to be connected to other landowners to share ideas and provide support for each other. Engagement with like-minded landowners is key to continued reinforcement of stewardship ethic and adaptive management. Programs unable to support landowners with continued extension visits would be wise to facilitate and build landowner networks, to pass management information through and establish communities of support.
As with most conservation initiatives, our research suggests we should be looking towards longer-term impacts and forecast changes that may change biodiversity benefits. In the private landowner context, this is fundamental. Simply signing landowners up to conservation contracts isn’t sufficient. Consideration of what drives landowners to continue participation in conservation activities is needed. We argue that financial incentives may be instrumental for uptake, but not suitable as the backbone of a program for long-term conservation. We recommend embracing multiple approaches to PLC with an awareness of what capacities landowners need to continue to make the right decisions for biodiversity.
This work has impacted the thinking of South African conservation planning, which has chosen to delay additional enrolment until all current land owners can be properly supported with extension support.
To learn more about our PLC research, please see our recent entries on the RMIT conservation science blog https://icsrg.info/.
What is stewardship?
The definition of ‘stewardship’ varies from place to place, person to person. In a general sense it relates to people taking responsibility for the many values of a landscape, usually with an aim of ensuring those values persist for subsequent generations.
The South African Biodiversity Stewardship Program sets out its vision of stewardship like this:
- To ensure that privately owned areas with high biodiversity value receive secure conservation status and are linked to a network of other conservation areas in the landscape.
- To ensure that landowners who commit their property to a stewardship option, will enjoy tangible benefits for their conservation actions.
- To expand biodiversity conservation by encouraging commitment to, and implementation of, good biodiversity management practice, on privately owned land, in such a way that the private landowner becomes an empowered decision maker.
More info: Matthew Selinske firstname.lastname@example.org
Selinske MJ, B Cooke, N Torabi, MJ Hardy, AT Knight & SA Bekessy (2016). Locating financial incentives among diverse motivations for long-term private land conservation. Ecology and Society 22:7. https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-09148-220207
Selinske MJ, M Hardy, A Gordon & AT Knight (2017). Policy brief for Privately Protected Areas Futures 2017: Supporting the long-term stewardship of privately protected areas. osf.io/znsdq/