Privately Protected Areas

Privately protected areas (PPA) are as defined by the IUCN “(i.e., a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values), under private governance”. he private governance of a protected area can include governance by individuals and groups of individuals, non-governmental organisations, corporations, including existing commercial companies and small companies established to manage groups of PPAs, for-profit owners such as ecotourism companies, research entities such as universities and field stations, or religious entities. The IUCN’s PPA Guidelines also acknowledge the existence of “many instances of shared governance arrangements that involve private governance in combination with other governance types, depending on the legal and institutional context for conservation in any country”. The motivation behind the establishment of PPAs by private landowners or land users can be philanthropic motives, cultural, religious or spiritual values, or because of economic or scientific interests.


Key characteristics

Private governance of nature emerges under land and sea tenure systems which agree rights over a property of private landholders. These rights may be through, for example, land title or long-term lease. 

The landholder has rights to the exclusive occupation and use of the area, to assign or cede these rights to others through leasehold or other agreements, and to sell or alienate the property to successors in title. The landholders may therefore be:

  • An individual or individuals who hold a title or lease to a property;
  • A legally-constituted organisation, which owns the property/lease, including NGOs, community property owners’ associations, trusts and foundations;
  • A company or corporation, which owns the property/ lease including not-for-profit, commercial or for-profit.

Key Characteristics:

Several defining criteria for PPAs can be derived. To be considered a PPA, the land or sea:

  • must be recognised, dedicated and managed as a protected area; 
  • must have nature conservation as the primary function of its protection status. This can include areas with other goals as well, but in the case of conflict, nature conservation will be the priority; 
  • must be dedicated to nature conservation in the long term, either through legal designation as a protected area, through a permanent or renewable binding agreement (e.g., conservation covenant or easement) or through governance by an organisation with clear perpetual conservation objectives; 
  • must be governed by a private entity. This excludes protected areas under public or shared governance. Governance in this context is understood as having decision making power over the establishment of a PPA; the long-term goal (vision) of the PPA; the management objectives; the adoption of a management plan and/or system; deciding who will implement the management; ensuring adequate human and financial resources.

Not all private land conservation initiatives can or should thus be treated as PPAs or should become PPAs. Where nature conservation is not the primary aim of the site management or is limited to the protection of parts of a larger property.

Key Stakeholders

  • Landowner: is willing to achieve conservation purposes on their property.
  • Nature conservation organization: can collaborate with landowners to assess and achieve the conservation goals (optional).
  • Governments: the public administration is the actor who allows this kind of temporary conservations, with specific measures and legislation, but no specific intervention (i.e. management).
  • External evaluator: assesses the value of the rights that are given up.
  • Nature consultant: assesses the ecosystem / habitats and supports setting up the nature conservation / restoration targets.

Rights and obligations

A voluntary agreement between property owners and other agents like NGO, to determine the rights and obligations in mutual agreement with all actors involved.

Duration of rights

It is case dependent. There are examples with private protected areas agreements for 10, 20, 30 or even more years.

Legal basis

For an area in private ownership to be designated or declared as PPA, it must meet the requirements for a protected area as defined by IUCN or in the equivalent applicable laws, including the statement of intent to achieve the conservation of nature in the long term. Achieving a degree of permanence usually requires an instrument that is binding on current and future successors in title. This can take the form of a specific statement of intent, undertaking, contract, articles of association covenant, registered servitudes in favour of nature conservation over the title to the property, memorandum of understanding or another similar instrument. The question of how a PPA is recognised, dedicated and managed, is dealt with differently in the EU member states. A few member states explicitly mention PPAs as a category in their national nature conservation laws and foresee a formal process for their designation and recognition (e.g., Portugal, Belgium and Slovakia). In most member states, no such official categories or procedures exist. The nature conservation acts of other member states do not mention this possibility but allow it implicitly. In some member states, protected areas may only be established on private properties with the consent of the landowner, e.g., in Finland, Belgium and in the UK.

Purpose and application

There are several arguments why PPAs should be treated distinctly from publicly protected areas. The most striking difference is the voluntary nature of PPAs. The standard conservation categories of protected areas, as they are found in the nature conservation legislation of most member states, do not sufficiently respect these motivations behind PPA designation. They treat landowners who voluntarily protect their land the same as those who will only comply with conservation objectives if threatened with the exertion of coercive power. If landowners know that their conservation initiative will trigger statutory area protection, this may pose a disincentive for private commitment. This lack of clarity about the functioning of PPAs has sometimes limited their creation and prevented long-term conservation solutions.

Economic transactions and fiscality

Cases exist where landowners receive fiscal benefits for PPA designation of their land, but these are rather exceptional and most of the time there is no direct economic transaction linked to it. PPAs often provide public benefits at a lower cost than public agencies managing protected areas. PPAs can reduce public costs of land purchase and water management for governments, and hence taxpayers. Countries can maximise these benefits by encouraging and supporting PPAs.


PPAs have many public benefits, such as, in situ biodiversity conservation; habitat conservation, restoration and connectivity; ecosystem functions such as water supply; geoheritage conservation; providing for research; religious attachments; personal fulfilment; and often public access.

Opportunities for landowners 

The landholders may lease or delegate governance or management responsibilities to others, including the private actors described above. Landholders usually have the right to determine the land-use including for nature conservation purposes.

Opportunities for conservation NGOs 

  • Designation of PPAs under the property of conservation NGOs, ensuring long-term nature protection of these sites.
  • Governance framework that allows conservation NGOs to claim for effective nature conservation and restoration across the EU.



  • Tool not allowed in many European countries.
  • It is excluded of the regulation and benefits of the Natura 2000 sites or any other network of public natural areas.
  • Lack of clarity about definitions and management and sometimes a poor match between areas protected and biodiversity richness.
  • The existence of sometimes ineffective incentive structures have created the risk of ‘temporary’ PPAs being created and have sometimes limited creation of PPAs.

Barriers for landowners

  • PPA owners complain of limited opportunity to engage with wider conservation policy and limited government support.
  • The rights of landholders may be constrained by prevailing land-use planning laws that regulate activities that may be conducted on private property.