Land stewardship agreements
Land stewardship generally focuses on encouraging landowners — individuals and families as well as businesses, municipalities and other organisations — and users — farmers, hunters, fishers — to manage areas and protect or enhance these values, or to allow others to manage the biodiversity and natural heritage.
Land stewardship is built upon a large variety of instruments. However, there is one that is particularly representative of the whole strategy of land stewardship, and this is the voluntary agreement for nature and landscape conservation, also known as the stewardship agreement.
Although agreements are the main and distinctive land stewardship initiatives, they are not the only option. Land stewardship organisations also raise awareness through education campaigns aimed at the general public, and promote volunteer actions or acknowledgement actions to support landowners’ activities. Though these actions do not imply an agreement as such, they may help set a collaborative framework with the landowner, and give support to on-going stewardship agreements.
These agreements usually involve a landowner and a stewardship organisation. However, more than one organisation or even more than one landowner can be part of this agreement. Its exact terms and conditions are variable and negotiable between the parties involved, and are to be tailored upon the characteristics of the property and the objectives of each party.
Stewardship agreements usually take the form of a written document (contract or convention), but in some cases they can also be verbal in nature, secured with a sincere handshake. Their contents vary from agreement to agreement and can encompass the whole property or only a part of it.
Although the duration of the agreements can vary depending on the stewardship options, it is recommended to establish agreements for a long period of time, over +10 years and even on a perpetual basis if possible (only in Common Law systems).
Three main options for land stewardship agreements
There are three main options for land stewardship agreements, depending on the subsequent relationship of the landowners with their property.
In management support agreements, the landowners keep on managing the land, but they commit to conservation-oriented actions. Land stewardship organisations and landowners agree to a set of actions to be developed in the property, according to the terms and conditions of the agreement. Land stewardship organisations can offer valuable advice and directions to landowners, especially if that means a visible improvement in the property, or an opportunity to obtain extra income.
In management transfer agreements, a landowner and an organisation agree which actions will be developed on the land, but in this case it will be the stewardship organisation who will carry them out. In some cases, these agreements imply a ‘non-action’: that is, the land stewardship organisation may obtain (after a donation, a cession or a purchase) the rights of use of some parts of the property, not to use them but to protect them for the future.
In property transfer agreements, ownership of the property changes hands. This means that the landowner transmits his/her property (or part of it) to a land stewardship organisation, which commits itself to developing responsible management of the property. Transfer of the property does not always mean that a stewardship organisation actually buys the land — for example, donation or legacy of private land of natural interest to stewardship organisations are usual in countries where land donations receive tax incentives, or where conservation has a social recognition.
Read more about the stewardship agreements in the online Land Stewardship Manual.