The concept of covenanting for conservation
Posted on 30 January, 2020 by Ivan
Have you ever wondered about conservation covenants and how are they applied? Did you know that we have already lost 80% of our biodiversity on private land in Victoria? We recently caught up with Senior Conservation Officer at Trust for Nature, Kirsten Hutchison, to learn more about this important conservation measure and what it means for landowners across our biodiverse nation. Here is a summary of the questions we asked Kirsten, which we hope will assist landowners in our region better understand covenants and the work Trust for Nature do in Victoria. Kirsten has been with Trust for Nature for nearly a decade and based out of the Castlemaine Office.
What is the concept of conservation covenanting properties?
Conservation covenants are voluntary. They are agreements on property titles that enable private landholders to protect nature forever, even after the property changes hands. Conservation covenants are set up for free—costs are covered so there is no cost to the landholder—and they are one of the most important things a landholder can do to Victoria’s environment.
Why should a landowner consider covenanting a property?
Since 1835, 66% of Victoria’s native habitat has been cleared. This has been most acute on private land, where 80% of biodiversity has been lost. Around 60% of land in Victoria is currently privately owned. Victoria is the most intensively settled and cleared state in Australia so it’s critical that we protect what’s left. This makes private land protection vital if we’re going to save Victoria’s threatened species and ecosystems. National and state parks are simply not enough.
Across the state, more than 1,450 private landholders have protected threatened woodlands, wetlands and grasslands with conservation covenants. These places are home to some of Victoria’s most threatened species such as the Helmeted Honeyeater and Plains-wanderer.
What are the criteria for covenanting a property?
Generally a property needs to be at least 10 ha in size, have good connectivity and contain high quality remnant native vegetation. Priority is given to properties that have threatened species and vegetation types present on them. Trust for Nature is guided by its Statewide Conservation Plan which identifies 12 priority landscapes across Victoria that will make the greatest contribution towards conservation on private land. The plan also identifies 148 native plants and 88 wildlife species to target for conservation on private land.
Who do I contact about discussing conservation covenants?
Contact Trust for Nature Head Office in Melbourne on (03) 8631 5888 and they can direct you to the appropriate regional staff member. In North Central Victoria you can contact Kirsten Hutchison (Senior Conservation Officer) on 0459 168 865.
What are the restrictions on covenanted properties?
A standard covenant generally does not permit:
- Native vegetation removal.
- Introduction of any non-indigenous vegetation.
- Deterioration in the quality, flow or quantity of water.
- Removal of wood or timber.
- Removal or disturbance of soil or rocks, including cultivation.
- Application of fertiliser.
- Pasture establishment.
- Recreational use of trail bikes and other recreational vehicles.
However, these standard restrictions can be modified in certain circumstances where the Trust is satisfied that the conservation of the land will not be adversely affected, i.e., the Trust can give permission for a temporary variation of the covenant via a ‘Letter of Approval’. Permission granted by a letter of approval is conditional on the upholding of the conservation values of the property.
What are the benefits for biodiversity and our ecosystems?
Together with conservation covenants and reserves, we have protected more than 100,000 hectares across Victoria. This provides safe places for native animals and plants forever and helps to protect some of Victoria’s most threatened species such as the Helmeted Honeyeater, Growling Grass Frog and Red-tailed Black Cockatoo. We also work with partner organisations such as Zoos Victoria and the Royal Botanic Gardens which rely on covenanted land for the safe release of plants and animals from captive breeding programs.
The Trust’s stewardship program provides ongoing support to landholders with a conservation covenant. The aim of the program is to ensure that all significant areas covenanted by the Trust are managed to maintain and enhance (where possible) the conservation values by preventing and controlling any threats to the biodiversity of a site. The program does this by providing the following services to landowners:
- Practical assistance: A site management plan is prepared for each proposed covenant in consultation with the landowner during the initial covenanting process.
- Technical advice: The Trust sources and provides technical advice to ensure landowners have access to up-to-date conservation related land management advice.
- Education: The Trust provides resources to enable landowners to improve their knowledge about managing and monitoring their covenanted properties. This is achieved through field days, information sheets, developing flora and fauna monitoring programs and one-on-one contact with landowners.
- Financial assistance: The Trust provides information on financial assistance that may be available from time to time for covenanters, including incentive grants for conservation activities (such as fencing, pest plant and animal control, and revegetation), rate rebate schemes with local councils, and tax concessions for the protection of covenanted properties.
Trust for Nature – some general facts:
- TfN are a not-for-profit Victorian conservation organisation and are one of Australia’s oldest conservation organisations, established by an Act of the Victorian Parliament in 1972.
- Together with conservation covenants and reserves, has protected more than 102,000 hectares across Victoria.
- Trust for Nature has registered more than 1,459 conservation covenants since 1986
- Trust for Nature owns 42 nature reserves across Victoria, including the iconic Neds Corner Station, a 30,000 hectare property near Mildura that was once part of the Kidman empire.
- Trust for Nature uses a revolving fund to buy and sell private land with high conservation values. They protect these properties with conservation covenants then on-sell them to new owners.
Watch the following video for an overview of Trust for Nature’s valuable work.