A revolution in conservation funding: exploring the use of revolving funds to protect nature on private land

Hardy, M 2017, A revolution in conservation funding: exploring the use of revolving funds to protect nature on private land, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title A revolution in conservation funding: exploring the use of revolving funds to protect nature on private land
Author(s) Hardy, M
Year 2017
Abstract It is widely recognised that stemming the decline of biodiversity requires greater conservation efforts on private land. Two common approaches used by conservation organisations to permanently protect biodiversity on private land involve acquiring and managing private property with high conservation value, or alternatively protecting conservation values by entering into a permanent conservation agreement with the owners of that land. However, these approaches are often limited by financial resources, and the number of landowners willing to volunteer their property for protection. An alternative approach is to use a capital fund (often referred to as a ‘revolving fund’ or ‘revolving loan fund’) to purchase private land with high conservation value, and then on-sell the property to new owners with the requirement for them to enter into a permanent conservation covenant or easement. The proceeds from the property sale are then reinvested back into the fund, enabling the purchase and protection of additional properties. The process is potentially cost-effective and sustainable, yet successful outcomes rely on practitioners making difficult decisions, characterised by complex and uncertain interactions between social, financial and conservation considerations.

Revolving funds are a relatively novel approach to conservation, currently used in at least four countries to conserve nature on private land. Over 684,000 hectares have been protected using the revolving fund approach to date. Despite their potential, little is currently known about their use as a conservation tool and their role in private land conservation. Through qualitative and quantitative approaches, this thesis investigates the role and implementation of revolving funds and how decision-theoretic approaches might enhance their contribution to private land conservation. I use Australia as a case study, which established its first revolving fund program in 1989 and currently has five revolving fund programs in operation. I explore the permanence of the conservation mechanism used by revolving funds to protect ecological values, identify the main considerations and influences in decision-making for revolving funds, develop decision-theoretic methods to assist practitioners through these complex decisions, and use a simulation model to explore trade-offs between different property acquisition strategies for revolving funds.

The research reveals revolving funds as having unique characteristics that enable them to fill an important niche amongst other approaches for permanently protecting biodiversity on private land, particularly due to their ability to recover costs. The assessment of the protection mechanisms used by revolving funds finds very few have been released, suggesting the approach is facilitating the implementation of an enduring mechanism for protecting biodiversity on private land. Data on agreement breaches was limited, but some emerging issues were identified relating to third party trespass, successor landowners and elderly landowners. Interviews with revolving fund managers reveal the complexity of revolving fund property selection decisions, with multiple interacting components representing ecological, social and financial considerations. Managers are balancing challenging trade-offs, particularly between conservation, financial, amenity and other factors (e.g. providing for the development of a residence whilst also protecting ecological values), and the complexity involved in property selection is likely constraining the implementation of this tool.

A probabilistic reasoning model of property selection developed in collaboration with revolving fund managers shows how threat, cost and alternative approaches to protection are the main factors influencing the suitability of a property for purchase by revolving funds. Revolving funds may be particularly useful in high threat, high land value areas (e.g. agricultural lifestyle areas), but to achieve conservation gains in this context, managers need to accept longer resale times or lower resale prices. Using a simulation model I explored the effect over time from implementing different revolving fund purchasing strategies (prioritising acquisitions based on conservation values, financial values, and combinations of these). The analysis showed that whilst strategy is important, the conservation threshold (the minimum conservation value at which a property can be considered) has a greater influence on the overall conservation outcomes than strategy, and that larger fund sizes are likely to deliver greater return on investment. The results highlight the importance of setting clear program objectives and aligning the size of revolving funds with the relevant property market.

Whilst a challenging approach to implement, and unlikely to be suitable for protecting all types of private land, revolving funds are already contributing to conservation efforts and are worth considering as part of the private land conservation policy mix. The unique ability for revolving funds to recover costs provides an opportunity to permanently protect private land that may be difficult to protect through other approaches – particularly where the expense of acquisition without resale is prohibitive. This research has focussed on revolving funds in Australia, but similar programs operate in at least four countries, and the results will fill a research gap on how this approach contributes to conservation efforts, helping to develop an evidence base for refining the implementation of revolving funds. The application of the decision-support methods developed in this thesis will assist in more effective implementation of this unique approach to conservation.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Global, Urban and Social Studies
Subjects Environment Policy
Conservation and Biodiversity
Keyword(s) Private land conservation
Privately Protected Areas
Conservation covenants
Conservation buyer
Revolving funds
Conservation easements
Conservation property
Conservation development
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Created: Fri, 04 Aug 2017, 11:40:47 EST by Denise Paciocco
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