The potential of land conservation agreements for protection of water resources
A survey of landowners assessed the feasibility of long term land conservation agreements for water resource protection. Such a private conservation tool is yet to be established in the UK, but innovation by an environmental charity seeks to mitigate the impacts of diffuse pollution from agriculture on water quality. Under the agreements a one-off payment would be made for agreed restrictions on use of targeted areas of farmland. This article places the proposed agreements within a hierarchy of approaches for water resources protection, and characterises them as a variant of Payments for Ecosystems Services. It reports the results of an innovative two-stage deliberative survey of the attitudes of a small sample of landowners located evenly across three catchments in South West England. A majority of respondents were receptive to the propositions and characteristics of the agreements. Seventy-five percent expressed interest in entering land into a scheme based on such agreements, but observed variation by landowner profile and farm type merits further investigation. Respondents interested in the agreements referred to current land values as a starting point for compensation required. The longevity of proposed agreements is an obstacle for some landowners; a cause for concern given the objective of ‘permanent’ water resource protection.