Report on Reform of Conservation Covenants

Executive Summary

In Australia, significant conservation effort has been spent protecting tracts of public land as national parks, reserves and conservation areas. While these reservation efforts are essential, many of Tasmania’s threatened vegetation communities (and dependent species) occur primarily on private land, particularly in central and eastern areas of Tasmania. Vegetation on private land is also important for the maintenance of landscape-scale habitat connectivity. For these reasons, there has been an increasing focus over the past decade on the protection of the natural and cultural values on private land.

One way that formal protection of private land may be achieved is through the use of conservation covenants1: voluntary, legally binding agreements between individual landowners and the Tasmanian Minister for the Environment. Many conservation covenants also require approval from the Federal Minister, and are counted towards Tasmania’s RFA obligations to maintain a Comprehensive, Adequate, and Representative (CAR) reserve system.2

Since their introduction in 1999, more than 810 conservation covenants have been entered into, protecting over 99,300 hectares of private land in Tasmania.3 Conservation covenants have the objective of protecting significant values on private property, and may restrict the activities that can be carried out or impose obligations for active management of the land. In return for this protection, covenanted landowners often receive financial assistance and land tax and council rates concessions.

Despite the significant contribution conservation covenants make to the management of natural and cultural values, there are few safeguards in Tasmanian legislation to ensure that covenants provide secure, long-term protection. The number of covenants being discharged or varied is expected to increase in coming years as agreements mature and covenanted properties are sold to landowners who did not agree to the original restrictions.

For this reason, it is timely to consider whether current laws provide adequate security for the natural and cultural values protected by conservation covenants. This report identifies weaknesses in the current legislation, and recommends improvements to ensure that recognised natural values on private properties are not diminished by the inappropriate variation or discharge of conservation covenants.

The report also considers a range of other threats to the effectiveness of conservation covenants, including limited funding for ongoing management, lack of monitoring and enforcement, and overriding rights for mining activities.

With a number of relatively minor legislative and policy reforms to strengthen their effectiveness, conservation covenants can provide an invaluable tool to facilitate conservation outcomes on private land and improve habitat connectivity and species resilience across Tasmania.