The Nature Conservation Trust (NCT) was established via an act of NSW Parliament, the Nature Conservation Trust Act 2001. The organisation was created as a bipartisan initiative with significant input by both conservation and agricultural sectors. It was established as a not-for-profit statutory body corporate by this Act, with three principal activities:
- To contribute to the conservation and enhancement of natural heritage on private land in NSW
- To operate a revolving fund scheme in order to purchase properties of high conservation value and apply in-perpetuity covenants protecting areas of high conservation value
- To communicate and to educate the public on the general importance of natural heritage of private land in NSW.
In 2016-17, the Nature Conservation Trust was replaced by the Biodiversity Conservation Trust. Some differences between the NCT and BCT include a new explicit focus on biodiversity conservation, as well as an integration within governmental structure with the BCT being a representative of the Crown that reports directly to the Minister for Environment. The BCT will continue to administer agreements concluded under previous legislation with the Nature Conservation Trust.
The Nature Conservation Trust story is significant given the work it had undertaken in connecting with local residents, farmers and in empowering them to protect natural heritage and improve conservation protection on their properties. The Trust has contributed to the protection of over 55,000 hectares of land with in-perpetuity covenants throughout New South Wales including the Capertree Valley, Albury and Lismore.
In-Perpetuity Covenants and the Nature Conservation Trust
In addition to its education and communication responsibilities, the major activity undertaken by the Nature Conservation Trust was the creation of in-perpetuity covenants which protect areas of natural heritage forever via restriction of development, vegetation removal and interference among other activities. The NCT would consider a range of factors when looking for new land opportunities including: biodiversity and general species richness, vegetation communities poorly represented in existing reserves, threatened species habitats, and ecosystems that contribute to greater climate change resilience and adaptation.
A key responsibility of the NCT was initiating discussions with landholders and providing ongoing support through the process of covenant applications. Typically government agencies interested in protecting a biodiversity asset would approach the Trust and the Trust would act to engage with landholders and local stakeholders. Once an agreement was drawn up, the NCT would provide ongoing support and facilitation for landholders including annual contact with landholders as well as property visits and inspections.
Covenant agreements would include a contract but also supplementary information about the property it covers as well as how this property forms a part of regional corridors promoting connectivity between different ecosystems. This contextualising of the covenant impact had a key positive impact on landholders – “people’s eyes light up to see where they fit within” regional corridors connecting national parks.
Capertree Valley Case Study: The power of local advocates
Capertree Valley is located approximately 135 kilometres northwest of Sydney in New South Wales. The Valley is noted internationally for its high bird biodiversity as well as being home to a number of World Heritage sites. In this case study, a landholder who had done significant tree planting on her property approached the NCT directly, seeking to protect the plantings with a covenant. Her objective was to protect the trees with an in-perpetuity covenant, necessary given the minimal protection for trees planted post 1990.
This landholder became a strong advocate for the work of the Nature Conservation Trust in the Capertree Valley. During this covenant process, she built knowledge and awareness about the program in the local community, engaging her established networks as a community member. This popular support along with the support of local organisations such as the local Catchment Management Authority allowed the NCT to create an organised project comprising local community and organisations working together to a common goal of protecting areas of high conservation value.
This story of the Capertree Valley highlights the enabling role of the NCT and the importance of local stakeholders in initiating and connecting the NCT to the broader community. Through its covenant programs, the NCT provided concerned landholders with a pathway to protect areas of high conservation value, it also provided ongoing support and contextualised the impact of these decisions by members of the community. In turn, community members were more empowered to not only work with the NCT to apply these covenants protecting local ecosystems, but also to educate and build awareness about the programs of the NCT.