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  • Writer's pictureIlkka Hanskin Luontoverkko

We don’t work alone - private conservation in Belgium and the US

Are we one of a kind, or does the Ilkka Hanski Nature Network have “relatives”? I contacted some conservation minded colleagues and asked them whether similar exercises exist in their countries. Here is what I learned from Belgium and the United States.


Natuurpunt is the largest Belgian nature conservation organization. It works in northern Belgium, Flanders. The main goal of Natuurpunt is the long-term protection of important habitats, species, and landscapes. Natuurpunt buys and manages nature reserves, studies species and habitats. It runs educational programs for the public and lobbies local and regional governments. Natuurpunt has also founded small educational nature reserves in many villages.

Natuurpunt has a policy department which brings nature topics into the political agenda. It unites citizens who want to contribute to the social task, without any political or other conviction.

Every nature reserve managed by Natuurpunt has a reserve manager working on a voluntary base. Large scale activities, such as mowing of meadows and building hides is mainly done by the professional teams. Most other activities are undertaken by several thousand volunteers. Natuurpunt also purchases and manages small, sometimes isolated wildlife areas. These play an essential role in preservation, recovery, and the spread of species.

In the long run buying land is the best method to maintain natural values in the intensively used Flemish landscape. The main sources of income are subsidies for management and acquisition of nature reserves from the Flemish government, EU-Life funding, and provinces. Other funds are collected from sponsorships and membership fees. More than 60 percent of the budget is spent on the management of nature reserves and 30 percent on communication with members and volunteers.

According the vision of Natuurpunt, nature and biodiversity can only survive when they are embedded in a network of core nature areas that are connected to each other. Through the network people can truly experience nature by an area that meets international nature conservation commitments.

The Nature Conservancy

In the US private land conservation is an innovative tactic that leverages the increasing interest of the private sector. The Nature Conservancy works to establish local groups that can protect land. It works with landowners, communities, cooperatives and businesses to establish local groups that can protect land. For these goals, the Nature Conservancy uses several approaches. Some of the main tools include:

- land trusts,

- conservation easements,

- private reserves, and

- incentives, such as subsidizing farmers and others to conserve habitats.

Conservation land trusts are tasked with the management of undeveloped land to maintain natural resources, historical sites, and public recreational areas for future generations. Landowners who use conservation easements to transfer development rights to a conservation land trust can receive a tax deduction for their donation.

The conservation easement is either voluntarily donated or sold by the landowner. It limits uses or prevents development from taking place on the land in perpetuity while the land remains in private hands. Easements protect land for future generations while allowing owners to retain many private property rights and to live on and use their land. This provides them potentially with tax benefits.

In a conservation easement, a landowner voluntarily agrees to sell or donate certain rights associated with his or her property and a private organization or public agency agrees to hold the right to enforce the landowner's promise not to exercise those rights. An easement property continues to provide economic benefits for the area in the form of jobs, economic activity, and property taxes.

Private reserves often provide many of the same ecological benefits that areas protected by the government do, primarily protecting biodiversity and natural landscapes. Private individuals or organizations own these areas and choose to protect the natural landscapes within them. Sometimes, private parks work in coordination with public ones.

The Nature Conservancy also operates in Europe. Here its work includes strengthening policies, engaging leading companies to advance sustainable development, encouraging private philanthropy, and developing impact investing strategies.

Matti Nummelin

Docent Environmental Adviser, Ministry for Foreign Affairs Finland (emeritus)

Thanks to Luc Bas and Tom Struhsaker for helping me to find these organizations.



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