Thursday, 5 September 2013

Catchment management and conservation covenants

The UK is doing some very interesting things with their catchment management program. After my meeting with Chris Spray in Dundee, I was keen to hear more, so I met with Laurence Smith, head of the Centre for Development, Environment and Policy, at SOAS, University of London, who’s been exploring the response of farmers to NGOs seeking to arrange payment for ecosystem services, and in particular, what sort of legal arrangements they’d be willing to enter into and what sort of payments they would require. This work is feeding directly into the catchment management activities of the West Country Rivers Trust, as well as helping to inform the development of new legal instruments that enable the protection of changed land management practices in perpetuity, in the form of conservation covenants. We have similar legal instruments in Australia, but the current state of property law in the UK requires some substantial legal changes to make these instruments available

Laurence also shared some valuable insights into the way that farmers often prefer to work with a non-government organization, rather than the environmental regulator. This tendency is similar to what I’ve observed in the USA, and highlights the importance of separate decision-making roles. When one agency is responsible for regulating activities, it’s very hard for that agency to also explore other opportunities, as people can be unwilling to have open, frank discussions with an agency that has enforcement powers.

One of the fascinating aspects of the catchment management approach being piloted by the UK is that they are actively encouraging a diverse range of local agencies to take a lead role (called the catchment ‘host’ organisation) in the development of catchment management plans. Organizations interested in this role can ‘bid’ for the opportunity to host the plan development. This is a policy that creates space for non-government organizations to get involved, and really encourages the involvement of NGOs in catchment management. I’ll be really interested to see the results of the next round of catchment management planning, and see how the NGOs facilitate (or not!) the development of plans that the local community can embrace. 

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