Land stewardship

What is land stewardship?

Land stewardship is an initiative for landowners and users to be involved in the preservation and use of natural, cultural and scenic values and resources. The entities that practice land stewardship can be public or private non-profit organizations, carrying out initiatives that include doing custody agreements for the conservation of natural heritage and biodiversity.

The types of agreements may be very diverse. They range from an agreement between the owner and the stewardship entity to manage a particular property with sustainable criteria in exchange for advice, to the sale of the plot for the entity to use it exclusively for the conservation of natural habitats. In other cases they are agreements to restrict exploitation, as with marine reserves in which fishermen decide to limit fishing in certain areas, or to maintain buildings of monumental or ethnographic interest.

The example of Ridimoas shows that land custody can be successful in Galicia

The Ley del Patrimonio Natural y de la Biodiversidad (Spanish law on nature preservation) provides for the custody of the territory as a legal resort that allows the effective protection of heritage, either natural or cultural. Although this law dates back to 2007, the many experiences in the Spanish State, and the long history of decades in some European countries, demonstrate its effectiveness.

However, in Galicia there are few examples of land stewardship in the environmental field. Among the most remarkable is an initiative in the Ourense province, Ridimoas, which is exemplary in its scale, continuity and efficiency. The progressive acquisition of land in the region of the Ribeiro, which in 2013 totalled some 300 hectares, has allowed very effective protection of woods and associated fauna.

A bit of history

The origin of this means of conservation can be found in the US in 1890, when the The Trustees of Reservations was created. Five years later, the first entity appears in Europe, with the establishment of the The National Trust in the UK. Another important landmark the foundation in 1905 of Natuurmonumenten in the Netherlands. Stewardship gets fully established in Europe from the seventies onwards, with new initiatives such as the Oasi program of WWF-Italia or Conservatoire du Littoral in France.

The American The Nature Conservancy is currently the biggest entity in the world. It was created in 1951 and currently manages 48 million hectares of land and 8,000 km of rivers in more than 35 countries. It has one million members and employs more than 700 scientists.

With regards to Europe, the British The National Trust protects more than 1,200 km of coast, more than 247,000 hectares of countryside, 76 nature reserves, more than 5,000 prehistoric monuments, 40 castles and 12 lighthouses, among others. It was founded in 1895 by three philanthropists; during the last 30 years the number of members has multiplied by 15, reaching the amazing number of 4 million members. The extraordinary level of activity would not be possible without the work of its 60,000 volunteers.

Also British, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has 200 nature reserves in the UK. The first reserve was acquired in 1930, when the entity was already 40 years old. Currently, between properties and agreements, it manages 131,127 hectares. Almost 4% of land declared as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in the UK is within RSPB reserves. In the past three years, 15 species new to the UK were located on its reserves, including one completely new to science. More than 1.5 million people visit them annually. They employ 547 people and have the assistance of 3,186 volunteers, working annually the equivalent of 132 full-time recruits.

Land stewardship in Spain

Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, as president of WWF/ADENA, was a pioneer in Spain in implementing this type of approach, when in 1974 he created the Refugio de Rapaces de Montejo de la Vega (Segovia), thanks to management agreements reached with local entities. Other initiatives that followed were those of GOB Mallorca, that bought the plot La Trapa in 1980 in order to create a natural reserve, and ADENEX, that in the same year initiated the creation of a network of natural reserves by means of agreements with the landowners. In 1988 it is founded the Ridimoas, with the aim of acquiring riparian forest for restoration and conservation. We had to wait until the nineties to see land stewardship take off in Spain.

To have an overview of what is now land stewardship in Spain, you can go as a first reference to Plataforma de Custodia del Territorio of the Fundación Biodiversidad, agency of the Ministerio de Agricultura, Alimentación y Medio Ambiente.

Currently there are stewardship networks in Catalonia (Xarxa de Custòdia del Territori), in Valencia (Avinença, Associació Valenciana de Custòdia i Gestió Responsable del Territori), in the Balearic Islands (ICTIB, Impulsors de la Custòdia del Territori a les Illes Balears), in the peninsular centre (Red de Custodia de Castilla y León and Red de Custodia del Territorio de Madrid y Castilla-La Mancha), in the Cantabric range (Red Transcantábrica de Custodia del Territorio), Aragón (Red Aragonesa de Custodia del Territorio) and Andalusia (Ínsulas, Red Andaluza de Custodia y Gestión del Territorio). Galicia registered hers in 2015, under the name of Rede Galega de Entidades de Custodia do Territorio, although it had already been working as a group of entities for several years, being Fragas do Mandeo one of its founder members. Finally the Foro de Redes y Entidades de Custodia del Territorio (Nets and Entities Forum for Land Stewardship) is dealing with the incorporation proceedings, with the aim of coordinating the autonomous networks.

In Spain there are currently 2,686 custody arrangements made by 216 institutions, surpassing the figure of 550,987 hectares of protected land, according to the inventory made by the Fundación Biodiversidad in 2015. The number of initiatives within the country varies considerably from one region to other; outstanding cases are Catalonia with 796, Andalusia cwith 465 and Murcia with 300.

Similarly, the intensity of the initiative can vary greatly. In the case of Fundación Global Nature, the network of biological reserves in public-private partnership reaches an area of over 9,000 hectares spread over 157 properties and 7 autonomous regions, with the recovery of Lake La Nava in Palencia one of the best-known accomplishments. Fundació Territori i Paisatje of Obra Social de Caixa Catalunya (Fundació Catalunya-La Pedrera nowadays) has purchased more than 8,000 hectares and, by means of agreements, has performed stewardship over another 140,000, covering 4.5% of Catalonian territory. The Madrid based Fundación CBD-Hábitat reached agreements covering large pieces of land, exceeding 82,000 hectares, with the aim of protecting endangered and emblematic Iberian species, such as the Iberian lynx or imperial eagle.

Galicia gets moving

Since 2008, the interest of Galicians in land stewardship has significantly increased. Several environmental organizations are taking their first steps, analyzing the real possibilities to take action in the natural environment and be directly responsible for its conservation. In other cases, land stewardship is simply the logical evolution of the activities that were already under way. At the meetings and congresses that they are organizing, they present their progress and share their experiences, cooperating and creating synergies that are gradually bearing fruit.

The approval of the Lei de mobilidade de terras in 2011 (Galician act on agricultural and cattle real estate) was a milestone by being the first Galician law to deal with land stewardship. This legal instrument is considered at the same level as other activities of public interest, giving land stewardship institutions access to land managed by the Banco de Tierras de Galicia (Bank of Galician Land), an agency under the authority of the Xunta de Galicia (Galician autonomous government).

Additional information

In the manual Custodia del territorio en la práctica, edited by Xarxa de Custòdia del Territori and Fundación Territori i Paisatje of Obra Social de Caixa Catalunya, one can find comprehensive information on the fundamental principles, legal framework and practical application of stewardship.

In document Custodia del territorio. Un modelo de gestión dentro de Red Natura 2000, by Laura Donada and Maya Ormazábal, a comprehensive analysis on land stewardship as a management tool in the Natura 2000 Network is presented.

The documents Conclusiones de las IV jornadas estatales de custodia del territorio cover what was discussed at the latest of these biannual conference (held in Asturias in May 2010).

In Estudio jurídico sobre la custodia del territorio, research directed by Ana López Barreiro for the Plataforma de Custodia del Territorio of Fundación Biodiversidad, the legal framework and incentives for land stewardship in Spain are examined, with references to countries like USA, UK and France.

In February 2016, the Fundación Biodiversidad published the Informe del 4º Inventario de Iniciativas de Custodia del Territorio del Estado español, a document that includes detailed statistical information on the progress of land stewardship.

The document Caring together for nature. Manual on land stewardship as a tool to promote social involvement with the natural environment in Europe, funded by a Life project, is a comprehensive review of land stewardship in Europe, its role in conservation, the way it works and the ways of involving different players, showing numerous success stories as examples. A shorter Spanish version is available and titled Conservar la naturaleza entre todos.

The article of the Ley del Patrimonio Natural y de la Biodiversidad (Spanish law on natural heritage and biodiversity preservation) concerning stewardship agreements for state-owned land located in natural areas was amended by Ley 25/2009, which sets out the principles for selecting stewardship entities, the limitation of the duration of agreements and the prevention of their automatic renewal.

First published: 6-10-2010
Last update: 10-2-2016
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