The importance of this country’s treasured landscapes to our economy, our health and our sense of identity is perhaps greater now than it has ever been. And yet protecting our natural heritage is often seen as a long-term investment made unaffordable by society’s more pressing day-to-day needs. By using an agreement known as a conservation covenant, landowners in England and Wales could, for the first time, protect their environment not only during their tenure but in perpetuity if they wished.
A conservation covenant is a voluntary, private agreement between a landowner and a conservation body – such as Natural England or a local wildlife trust – to do or not do something on their land for a conservation purpose. Made in the public interest, it continues to be effective even after the land changes hands. Conservation covenants could also be used as alternatives to land purchases by conservation organisations (or used to protect sites when they sell land). They can help the local economy, perhaps by enabling a flood-hit business community to pay a landowner to plant woodland upstream to reduce run-off.
There must, of course, be checks and balances in place, along with some flexibility. If a site can no longer fulfil its original conservation purpose then the current landowner and conservation body could agree to modify or terminate the covenant. And if an area of land covered by a conservation covenant were to be overwhelmingly needed for some other purpose by the community or nation then it could be subject to compulsory purchase.
Conservation covenants are a compelling concept, ensuring that future generations can reap the rewards of our investment in the natural environment.
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