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

Date: 01, Mar, 2017
Author(s):   Mat Hardy
Publisher: RMIT University

PhD Thesis

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.