Trusting Conservation Partnerships
“National Parks will always be fundamental to landscape conservation, but very few are created in Australia these days. Innovative Trust arrangements, bespoke for the local or regional needs, are becoming more common”.
Conservation costs money. From routine land management practices that provide safe places for community to restoration and reintroduction of missing species and to research and monitoring – it all requires financial support. The original model for conservation was, aligned with the definition of the term, to create a National Park and have it managed by a government agency.
The rate of formal State-managed National Park creation has slowed appreciably in the last decade, as other conservation instruments or approaches have been used to secure similar outcomes. The variety of common models for maintaining and improving high quality environmental assets, now includes:
- Formal protection in a State-managed conservation estate (e.g. ‘National Parks’ and ‘Marine Parks’)
- Formal protection on private lands through the use of covenants or other legal instruments (e.g. biodiversity offsets or conservation covenants placed on land titles)
- Protection on private lands by not-for-profit/private organisations purchasing and managing the land for conservation outcomes (e.g. Bush Heritage, The Wildlife Conservancy)
- Engaging landholders on private land to manage their own environmental assets for public good outcomes (e.g. stewardship programs)
- Protection within State-owned lands primarily managed for other asset values (e.g. water catchments, state forests)
In situations where formal covenants or conservation tenures are used, and the land is managed primarily for conservation, a common challenge is securing money for the long-term, ‘in perpetuity’ costs to maintain and enhance the biodiversity values for which the asset was originally protected.
Recently in Australia and overseas a new model for the management of conservation assets has begun to emerge, usually in response to land use development pressures. Conservation ‘Trusts’ are popping up with increasing frequently, to support long-term conservation gains and cover reserve running costs. Examples of this emerging model include:
- Capital Woodland and Wetlands Trust (to support management of two reserves in the ACT)
- Fiordland Conservation Trust (established in 2007 to manage specific patches of land)
- Kea Conservation Trust (established in 2006 to work across the landscape)
- Sky Rail Rainforest Foundation (established in 2005 to leverage the Sky Rail development in Cairns)
- Lake Cowal Foundation (established in 2000 to support management of lands at Lake Cowal in western NSW leveraging a gold mine development)
Given the unique balance between conservation and commercial opportunities in these models, more often than not, they are successfully run as a partnership between the community, land managers, academia, and governments, usually through a company (non-government organisation) legal structure.
What benefits are planned and realised in the development of these Trust partnerships?
Security of resources
One of the fundamental common themes is the seeding of the organisation with money that, once in the organisation, cannot be used for any purpose other than the objects of the Trust. This is typically defined in the Trust deed or constitution of the organisation. Since environmental asset management is a long-term game, it makes sense to have a level of security over the long-term to plan and undertake activities. Resources held within a trust are protected from short-term changes in policy or funding program direction. For this reason Trusts are considered a useful tool to provide some certainty and the ability to take a medium- to long-term perspective in planning.
Partnerships bring innovation
With the variety of stakeholders at the table helping to guide and support the direction of the organisation, its projects or programs and its day-to-day activities, a solid platform for innovation is built. Commensurate with the broadly recognised role of not-for-profit organisations in leading innovation many conservation focussed Trusts have innovation as a key purpose or objective for their organisation. The not-for-profit structure is often at somewhat of anarms-length from each of the partnership organisations giving them some comfort that risks taken are shared risks and lessons learnt through the innovation process will equally be shared.
Promoting communication and community engagement
Communication and community engagement can often be simpler and targeted to interested parties when it is undertaken through a mission-focussed organisation. The same arms-length benefits that support innovation support increased communication capability. Because Trusts are often focussed on a theme or location, interested local people will be naturally interested in hearing, listening and conversing.
There are three key features of many Trusts that facilitate enhanced fundraising capability: (1) a charitable status often means donors can receive tax deductions; (2) the common low-overhead structure of not-for-profit organisations is attractive to donors who want to ensure their hard-earned money is best-used; and (3) the trust theme or location is often closely aligned with the interests of donors, who can be assured that their donations will impact positively on those environmental assets. Additional funds raised can be used to support programs beyond routine management practices – typically restoration, asset improvement, or species re-introductions.
Enhancing management practices applied broadly
One of the great benefits of these partnerships is the power of lessons-learned through innovation being taken back to partner organisations and applied more broadly. Well before formalisation of new approaches in guidelines and published papers, new approaches that work are quickly adopted more broadly in partner organisations – saving resources and enhancing environmental outcomes.
Improving partners’ profiles and recognition
Through proactive community engagement, innovation and communication each of the partner organisations enjoys a heightened public profile. This is often particularly important for corporate partners whose investments in conservation are often related to corporate social responsibility or marketing objectives. Enhanced recognition for partners takes time, and unfolds commensurate with positive biodiversity gains.
Innovative Trust arrangements, bespoke for the local or regional needs, are likely to become more common. National Parks will always be fundamental to landscape conservation, but very few are created in Australia these days. Most of the conservation gains are now to be made on private land or where land use is changing (e.g. for urban development or resource extraction).
Many stakeholders are increasingly looking for new and bespoke arrangements that deliver financial security, enhanced community engagement and positive conservation outcomes (enhanced biodiversity and innovation). The benefit of Trust models is that they often include community representation in the ownership and control structures – enhancing local buy-in and engagement in the environment – critical for securing – conservation outcomes.