Development of a European private land conservation network

The LIFE ELCN project aimed to develop a network of organisations and individuals active in private land conservation. The network supported private landowners (non-public bodies or individuals) who were willing to engage in conservation on at least part of their land.

Over the past two decades, EU Member States have dedicated considerable resources to biodiversity protection, especially through the designation and proper management of the Natura 2000 network. But the network’s effectiveness for achieving or preserving a favourable status of the habitats and species of Union interest remains mixed. Moreover, the benefits of Natura 2000 have been outweighed by continued and growing pressure on biodiversity in the EU. Current rates of extinction in the EU remain critically high and lend support for regulatory measures to be complemented by private initiatives. Without additional efforts, in particular from the private and civic sector, the targets of the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy and Natura 2000 will not be reached.

Private land conservation can contribute to the management of the Natura 2000 network and help protect biodiversity in the wider countryside. Interest in alternative approaches to land conservation both within and outside the EU has increased. New instruments for private land conservation have been developed, including cooperative mechanisms, various forms of voluntary agreements with or by landowners willing to conserve biodiversity values on their land, the creative use of property law, and the systematic involvement of volunteers. The underlying premise of many of these initiatives is the acknowledgement that for properties in private ownership, regulation alone cannot fully achieve an optimal land use compatible with desirable conservation objectives. If fundamental questions of land ownership and land use interests are not adequately addressed, conservation management cannot be successfully implemented.

Private land conservation in the EU is still relatively undeveloped compared to other regions in the world, such as North America (Canada and the USA), Oceania (Australia and New Zealand), and South America (Argentina, Belize, Chile, Argentina, Costa Rica and other countries). In the EU, private land conservation has traditionally taken two forms. Either civil-society conservation NGOs have become landowners and managed properties for conservation purposes themselves, or land users (mostly farmers) have been paid subsidies for temporary conservation actions on their land. While the importance of both strategies for the conservation of biodiversity in the EU is unquestionable, other forms of private land conservation, such as using conservation easements for the perpetual protection of private properties, have not yet developed into robust, broadly applied strategies. To date, private land conservation tools in the EU are still very heterogeneous and generally not well known.

This project was about developing a network of organisations and individuals active in private land conservation. It builds on previous efforts of the last couple of years. In 2013, at the 10th World Wilderness Congress in Salamanca, Spain, the idea of creating a European Landowners Alliance for Wildlands and Nature was presented by Eurosite, Fondaci├│ Catalunya La Pedreda, DBU, The Wild Foundation and other organisations. This inspired a similar initiative in 2014, which called upon the formation of a European Land Stewardship Network at the final conference of the award-winning LANDLIFE project (LIFE10 INF/ES/540) in Barcelona, Spain. In parallel to the momentum created by the LANDLIFE project and with strong personal and institutional overlap, the International Land Conservation Network was founded in September 2014 in Providence (RI), USA, establishing the first global network of private land conservation practitioners. These efforts culminated in the organisation of the first annual conference of the International Land Conservation Network in October 2015 in Berlin, Germany. The European projects represented at the Berlin ILCN Conference form the consortium of organisations presenting this application.