ABOUT LAND TRUSTS
What are Land Trusts?
Land trusts or conservancies non-governmental organizations usually registered charities that conserve land. They are community-supported through memberships, donations, and volunteers. They can be local, regional, province wide or national in scope, involved in protecting natural, scenic, recreational, agricultural, historic, or cultural property.
An important distinction of land trusts is that they are fundamentally “direct action” organizations rather than environmental advocacy groups. Their main activity is the protection of ecologically important land. There are several types of land trusts such as farmland trusts, community land trusts, historical trusts or land conservation trusts. The latter is the commonest type in Canada.
History of land trusts
The land trust movement began in Britain and the United States at about the same time in the late 19th century. The National Trust was founded in Britain 1895 by three Victorian philanthropists. Concerned about the impact of uncontrolled development and industrialisation, they set up the Trust to act as a guardian for the nation in the acquisition and protection of threatened coastline, countryside and buildings. More than a century later, it has grown to care for over 248,000 hectares (612,000 acres) of beautiful countryside, plus more than 700 miles of coastline and more than 200 buildings and gardens of outstanding interest and importance.
In the U.S., the land trust movement began with the establishment of The Trustees of Reservations, the first private nonprofit conservation organization of its kind in the country, by Charles Eliot a young landscape architect. It continues its work today and has been joined by larger organizations such as The Nature Conservancy (in 1951) which has protected more than 117 million acres of land and 5,000 miles of rivers worldwide and The Trust for Public Land (in 1972) whose 3,500 land conservation projects in 47 states protects more than 2 million acres.
Land Trusts in Canada
Until recently the situation in Canada has been for the federal and provincial governments to preserve land for wildlife habitat and recreation through their systems of parks and reserves. There was no tradition for land trusts and in fact no legal structure for them at the provincial level. Canada’s only national land trust has been the Nature Conservancy of Canada which was formed in 1962, Since then, NCC and its partners have helped to conserve close to 2 million acres (809,371 hectares) of ecologically significant land nationwide.
The development of local and regional land trusts throughout Canada began in the early 1990’s. Our Canadian Thousand Island Heritage Conservancy was one of the first. By 1998 there were approximately sixty known trusts operating in Canada and there were over eighty in 2001. Collectively, these organizations comprise a powerful group in the conservation sector that is committed to the preservation of our important landscape features. They are linked in Ontario by the Ontario Land Trust Association and nationally by the recently formed Canadian Land Trust Association.
What do Land Trusts do?
Land trusts use a variety of approaches to achieve their land conservation objectives including:
• purchase of threatened lands
• encouraging and accepting outright donation of lands
• property management
• acquiring conservation easements to secure permanent protection of landscape features without direct ownership
• transferring of lands to an appropriate management agency (such as a government parks or wildlife agency)
• providing environmental education and working cooperatively with landowners through private land stewardship programs
• carrying out evaluations to determine landscape conservation priorities
• advocating protection priorities to government
• raising funds through private donations or government funding programs
Advantages of a land trust
• Land trusts are positive, they work to protect the beauty of natural areas and open space, rather than fighting pollution and other types of environmental degradation.
• Land trust deals are non confrontational. They are voluntary. Land trusts work with willing owners to help them protect their land. There is no loser in the battle because there’s no battle.
• Land trust accomplishments are permanent. At the end of the cooperative process, the land is saved in perpetuity.