Carla Archibald | Conservation Science. Identifying environmental preservation & sustainability for wildlife Australia
Conservation Science — Research, Policy & Practice


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What's the best way share data about Privately Protected Areas?

Privately protected areas (PPA) — like conservation covenants or easements and private reserves — are becoming more widely used to promote conservation around the world. In parallel to the increase in privately protected area establishment, there has been a also a growing recognition of the important contributions towards conservation that privately protected areas can make. There are now over 25,000 privately protected area reported globally and governments are increasingly beginning to count these areas towards their national and international conservation commitments.

The public availability of spatial data on countries’ conservation estates is important for broad-scale conservation planning and monitoring and for evaluating progress towards targets. But, there has been limited consideration of how PPA data is reported to national and international protected area databases, particularly whether such reporting is transparent and fair to the landholders involved. So myself and several early career researchers who focus on privately protected area, considered the data reporting procedures for privately protected areas from Australia, South Africa, and the United States to illustrate the inconsistencies within and between countries regarding what data is reported and the transparency with which it is reported.

The process in which privately protected areas are reported on and shared should be different to that of government protected areas. As we noted a potential tension between landholder preferences about their privacy and security, and the benefit of sharing this information for broader conservation efforts. This i we identify the need to consider equity in PPA reporting processes.


Australia has a publicly available national protected area database that has shown good progress in its inclusion of PPAs (Collaborative Australian Protected Area Database; CAPAD). As conservation covenants are designated under state legislation, it is the states and territories responsibility to provide data to the CAPAD, which has lead to inconsistencies in how data is reported and shared. For some privately protected area programs in Australia, this process of how data will be shared is very explicitly discussed with landholders upon signing agreements, but for other programs it is unclear whether landholders are made aware that information about their properties may be included as PPAs in national and international databases.


Conservation easements are the primary policy instrument to facilitate private conservation areas in the USA. Conservation easements are negotiated by organisations that either purchase land directly or specialise in conservation easements. The publicly accessible National Conservation Easement Database has successfully aggregated data on easements held by thousands of conservation organisations (NGOs, state and federal governments), but many organisations have declined to provide data. Concern for landholder privacy have been raised as a primary reporting barrier, as well as prior agreements with landholders not to share locations and fear that this data could be used by developers to identify undervalued properties.


In South Africa, the Department of Environmental Affairs has a legislative mandate to maintain a publicly available register of South Africa’s conservation estate and long history of using privately protected areas as a means to conserve nature. South Africa’s primary tool for expanding its estate of protected areas on privately owned land is the national biodiversity stewardship initiative. Biodiversity Stewardship Agreements are established through a contract between the landholder and the provincial conservation agency, and data-reporting policies are not evident in the national contract template. Embedded within this process, landholders are likely to be aware of the public availability of their property’s name, land use, and geospatial data as the establishment of a formal PPA requires a public designation process.

An equitable reporting process is important for developing and maintaining organisational legitimacy and ensuring landholders feel supported—two factors that can influence landholder motivation to participate in conservation activities and thus have a notable impact on conservation outcomes. In our study, we present a pathway using widely adopted data privacy method to structure our thinking. We presented the following 10 principals to guide data sharing protocols for privately protected areas:

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To learn more about how to develop fair, transparent and appropriate data sharing processes, please download our Open Access publication refereed to below:

Clements, H., Selinske, M., Archibald, C., Cooke, B., Fitzsimons, J., Groce, J., Torabi, N. & Hardy, M. (2018). Fairness and Transparency Are Required for the Inclusion of Privately Protected Areas in Publicly Accessible Conservation Databases. Land, 7, 96.

Recommendations from this study were also used to inform the IUCN Guidelines from Privately Protected Areas authored by Mitchell which was released in 2018:

Mitchell, B.A., Stolton, S., Bezaury-Creel, J., Bingham, H.C., Cumming, T.L., Dudley, N., Fitzsimons, J.A., Malleret-King, D., Redford, K.H. and Solano, P. (2018). Guidelines for privately protected areas. Best Practice Protected Area Guidelines Series No. 29. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. xii + 100pp: