The EU has formally committed to halt biodiversity loss in the EU by 2020. To realize this objective, the EU has adopted a comprehensive biodiversity strategy, the centerpieces of which are EU nature legislations, especially the Birds Directive (1979) and the Habitats Directive (1992). Those directives form the legal basis for the Natura 2000 network, Europe’s nature protection network.
Much of European biodiversity is found on the 60% of Europe’s acreage which is privately owned. Because protecting biodiversity comes at an opportunity cost to private landowners, the EU nature conservation goals cannot be accomplished without the engagement of private landowners. Thus, there is need for government intervention to promote biodiversity conservation on private land. Historically, government regulation to achieve nature conservation objectives has not been well received by private landowners. Therefore, most EU Member States have created a range of voluntary programs whereby landowners and land managers can receive payments and other benefits for participation in land management contracts for conservation purposes.
However, many of those conservation programs are relatively new or even unknown to European private landowners and in some cases, may not even exist in some national, regional and European laws and policies. Thus, a lack of awareness of and understanding about existing and new voluntary programs for private land conservation by landowners has hindered the uptake of these conservation programs.
The overall purpose of this project is to expand the use of private land conservation methods and approaches in the EU through dialogue with landowners and their representatives. By field testing these tools with landowners in some countries, the project also intends to develop recommendations for new and more effective private land conservation policies as well as how those policies can be rolled out effectively at both the EU and national scales in the coming years.
More specifically, the project intends to assess landowner understanding of and preferences for the types of conservation arrangements that would be more effective in achieving greater acceptance and use. The aim of the project is to identify regional differences in the perceived barriers and needs of private landowners to have such landowners be more willing to undertake actions to benefit nature.
Using the results of the study, the project’s ultimate objective will be to provide the European Commission with a set of national and regional policy change recommendations that would increase the involvement of private landowners in achieving the EU nature conservation objectives. In the context of this project, ‘policy changes’ include possible changes in legislation, administrative regulations, guidelines, institutional arrangements, funding, incentives and capacity needs.
The project will compile a comprehensive list of existing, new and innovative conservation tools and programs, drawing not only from the experience in the EU but from other countries as well, particularly in the US. That information will be shared with selected groups of private landowners in 15 EU countries. While much information on innovative private land conservation tools exists, there is a need for effective communication with private landowners to enable them to assess the use of such tools within the cultural, political and legal context of their own country. This project will gather relevant information on a wide set of land conservation tools and translate this information into understandable and engaging language accessible to private landowners in the EU member states.
Using well-established survey research techniques (including focus groups, questionnaires, and web-based input,) the project will seek landowner input about the types of conservation programs, payments and incentives that would make them more willing to participate in biodiversity conservation programs. This bottom-up approach to policy development makes this project unique and the proposals and recommendations for policy changes that emerge are likely to have a greater chance of success because of this kind of early vetting with stakeholders.
Finally, the project intends to coordinate closely and develop synergies with another EU Life Project entitled “Development of a European Private Land Conservation Network (ELCN).” That project is focused on developing and expanding the use of private land conservation tools in the EU and in continuing to build a network of private conservation organizations throughout the EU that could enhance the growth of the private land conservation movement in the EU. It will be critical to ensure close collaboration between these two projects to maximize the return on the EU’s investment in private land conservation.