In view of dwindling habitats for rare and endangered species, conservationists around the world are buying land - in order to secure the last piece of undisturbed home for their problem children. But if you ignore the laws of the market, you may do more harm than good.
According to the Nature Conservation Act, at least ten percent of Germany's land area should one day help to secure biological diversity: A network of protected areas of different categories is planned to offer endangered species a habitat and refuge. Currently, just 2.6 percent of the country's area enjoys the strict status of a nature reserve. The state alone, it seems, is not doing enough to protect endangered animals and plants.
Many nature conservation organizations have become active themselves and are active as land buyers in order to save endangered habitats and their inhabitants from destruction. The American association "Nature Conservancy" demonstrates the extent that this can take on: In the last fifty years, the organization has bought over 6.5 million hectares of private land in the USA alone and spent around six billion US dollars on it. Globally, there are six times as much land. Lucky that there are such investors, many people interested in nature conservation will think.
Conservation efforts can sometimes do more harm than good
(Paul Armsworth et al.) But buying land can be a double-edged sword, warn Paul Armsworth of Sheffield University and Gretchen Daily of Stanford University. The two ecologists sat down with Peter Kareiva of the Nature Conservancy and economist James Sanchirico and calculated the consequences of land acquisition for conservation purposes. Their results strongly advise that before buying a property, it is essential to analyze its surroundings and the impact on the respective market. Because: "Conservation efforts can sometimes do more harm than good," say the researchers.
Many areas are bought up because they are particularly rich in species or offer original habitat. The scientists criticize that the ecological value of the respective surrounding area is considered far too seldom or not at all by those interested in land. These areas can play a decisive role in this - often privately owned and left in their natural state, they often serve as an important buffer region in which many an endangered species feels quite comfortable. If these stripes are lost, the loss sometimes weighs considerably more heavily than the gain of the newly acquired protected area.
The relationship between supply and demand is therefore correspondingly important: if conservationists push their concerns into an already tight real estate market, the prices for everyone involved climb. This makes it more difficult not only for the organizations themselves to be able to add to their tight budgets in the future. The proximity to a protected area, which is also valuable for others, also attracts investors who want to benefit from it - and tempts private owners to sell their land, which may in turn be interesting from a nature conservation point of view, but is now very lucrative. The habitats that are so important around the actual protected area can unexpectedly be degraded to building land: it is so nice to live with a view of the nature park.
Demand for Conservation Land is Changing Land Market Supply and Demand
(Paul Armsworth et al.) So it makes sense to check whether other people interested in land could move to nearby regions around a planned protected area project - this would avoid price-driving competition that would also endanger ecologically valuable areas. Sometimes there is also the hopeful option of upgrading existing building areas instead of creating entirely new ones. In any case, the more limited the supply of land is, the greater the risk that an equally important refuge will be lost in private hands. In such cases, it could make more sense from a nature conservation economic point of view to switch to other projects in the context of which more land can be purchased for the same money.
No easy consideration that Nature Conservancy and Co. flutters onto their desks. And the researchers hadn't even taken many aspects into account: population dynamics, for example, or the fact that facts change over time - today's decision can long be obsolete tomorrow because other conditions arise. The four scientists also left out concepts that rely on nature-friendly use in and around endangered areas - a very popular and successful means of nature conservation.
"The demand for land for nature conservation is changing the supply and demand of the real estate market," the authors point out. Thus, not only the inventory of species or the originality of the habitat should serve as a basis for land acquisition by appropriate organizations, but also quite banal economic cost-benefit calculations. Otherwise an action that is positive per se could develop extremely counterproductive consequences.