The money or the trees

What drives landholders’ participation in biodiverse carbon plantings?

Key messages:
  • We developed a Bayesian Belief Network that predicts landholder participation rate for any type of carbon-farming scheme
  • We found that program characteristics are more influential at driving participation than financial incentives
  • Biodiversity co-benefits of carbon planting is another important factor

Biodiverse carbon plantings in an agricultural landscape in Victoria. (Photo by Nooshin Torabi)

Biodiverse carbon plantings in an agricultural landscape in Victoria. (Photo by Nooshin Torabi)

Many believe that biodiverse carbon plantings hold the key to sustainable land management. In addition to storing carbon, planting trees has the potential to preserve vital ecological processes and provide habitat for wildlife.

Like any private-land conservation scheme, the number of participants has a direct impact on the expected environmental outcomes of the program. The number of landholders participating in carbon and biodiversity related programs directly influences the amount of carbon stored and biodiversity protected. The rate of landholder participation depends on many social and environmental drivers. My research has focussed on determining what these drivers are.

With colleagues, I undertook a literature review on the factors influencing landholder participation in agri-environment schemes, voluntary carbon plantings and private land conservation. Next, we surveyed and interviewed 17 landholders who participated in a voluntary biodiverse carbon planting program in Victoria. We explored landholders’ drivers and motivation for participation in the program in each step of adoption. There was a diverse range of people in our survey which included commercial farmers, semi-commercial farmers, hobby farmers and life-style landholders.

We also interviewed 14 science and policy stakeholders working in the field of carbon and biodiversity conservation in Australia. Interviewees were from universities, CSIRO, government organisations and NGOs. We asked them about challenges and opportunities in bundling and stacking carbon and biodiversity ecosystem services.

Bundling refers to paying a premium price for the biodiversity co-benefits of carbon plantings and stacking relates to selling carbon and biodiversity credits separately in their related markets. Bundling and stacking could offer landholders more incentives for their participation in biodiverse carbon plantings.

Using these inputs (literature review, surveys and interviews), we developed a Bayesian Belief Network. This is a probabilistic graphical model that predicts landholder participation rate for any type of carbon-farming scheme. We examined the impact of three main factors on the participation rate: program design (eg, management requirements), landholders’ values for co-benefits (eg, biodiversity) and financial incentives (eg, bundling or stacking). We ran an expert elicitation workshop to parameterise our model.

Our analysis found that program design was the most important factor, followed by the value of co-benefits with financial incentives being the least important factor.

We also examined the influence of different scenarios on the participation rate. Each scenario was a combination of an incentivising scenario (bundling, stacking or carbon only payments) and a program permanence option (100 year, 25 years and on contract agreements). Our results revealed that ‘on contract agreement’ and stacking/bundling carbon and biodiversity credits could increase landholder participation rate more than any other scenario.

These findings could help policy makers to design programs that are more flexible and appealing to a broader range of landholders. Such programs need to ensure that the landscape-specific co-benefits of participation are effectively communicated to landholders. This is because both conservation and productivity related co-benefits matter to landholders.

More info: Nooshin Torabi


Torabi N, L Mata, A Gordon, G Garrard, W Wescott, P Dettmann & S Bekessy (2016). The money or the trees: What drives landholders’ participation in biodiverse carbon plantings? Global Ecology and Conservation 7: 1–11.

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