The Privatisation of Biodiversity? - New Approaches to Nature Conservation in the United Kingdom

The conference aims to explore new approaches that might be used as alternatives to “command-and-control” regulation to promote the conservation of biodiversity. In particular, the focus will be on Payment for Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity Off-Setting.

View from Kinnoul Hill, Perth

Project Background and Achievements

The UK failed to meet its target of halting biodiversity loss by the end of 2010.  Although some progress is being made, the current policy and regulatory approaches have not prevented, far less reversed, the loss of biodiversity across the country.  This project examines the potential for using an innovative range of legal mechanisms to achieve the step-change needed if there is to be effective conservation of biodiversity within the UK.  Our focus is on the legal issues that arise from such developments, filling the gap left by the literature that considers the ecological and economic effectiveness of different approaches.

By studying the laws used in other jurisdictions and other areas of environmental law, the research is exploring a range of mechanisms that might be adopted to further the conservation of biodiversity, most of which rely more heavily on private initiative and funding than the present law.  These will include conservation offsets and banking (whereby development in one place is off-set by enhanced conservation elsewhere), conservation covenants (long-term legal recognition of private conservation agreements), payments for ecosystem services (e.g. payments from those benefitting from the flood protection offered by undeveloped land) and taxation.  This will offer policy-makers and stakeholders an evaluation of the options for innovations in the law that might offer more effective ways of conserving biodiversity.  At a time when the resources available to the public conservation agencies are likely to be restricted, the greater emphasis on private initiative and funding is of particular interest.

As well as being legal innovations, such mechanisms also present a different view of biodiversity interests in terms of legal status, their nature as public or private goods and their place in relation to competing public and private interests.  To the extent that they represent a “privatisation” or “commoditisation” of conservation, this marks a significant departure from existing conceptual approaches which view nature more as a common heritage than as a subject of commercial transactions.  Similar issues have arisen in other areas of environmental law, e.g. arguing that pollution taxes represent an unacceptable licence to pollute so long as one has enough money, and to some extent in terms of the exploitation of biodiversity, but have not been explored in relation to biodiversity conservation.

The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and is scheduled to run for two years (April 2012 - April 2014).  It is led by Prof. Colin T. Reid, with Dr. Walters Nsoh as a full-time postdoctoral research assistant.  A book arising from the project should be published in 2015.

We have been engaging fully with policy developments during the project, particularly the Law Commission’s consultation on Conservation Covenants and DEFRA’s consultation on Biodiversity Offsetting.  In both cases we have submitted formal responses and been involved in various stakeholder and other meetings.


CT Reid & W Nsoh: Whose Ecosystem is it Anyway? Private and Public Rights under New Approaches to Biodiversity Conservation - (2014) 5 Journal of Human Rights and the Environment  112-135

CT Reid: The Privatisation of Biodiversity? Possible New Approaches to Nature Conservation Law in the United Kingdom - (2011) 23 Journal of Environmental Law 203-232

CT Reid: Between Priceless and Worthless: Challenges in Using Market Mechanisms for Conserving Biodiversity - (2013) 2 Transnational Environmental Law 217-233

CT Reid: Conservation Covenants - (2013) 77 The Conveyancer and Property Lawyer 176-185

W Nsoh & CT Reid: Privatisation of Biodiversity: Who can sell Ecosystem Services? - (2013) 25 Environmental Law and Management 12-20

CT Reid: Conservation Easements in the United Kingdom - L. Ristino (ed), Conservation Easements (USA) – in press

CT Reid & Nsoh: Biodiversity Offsets and Conservation Covenants - Environmental Law and Management – in press

Further information

Details of publications arising from this project, and access to the texts made available under Open Access arrangements (subject to publishers’ embargo periods etc.), are available through Prof. Reid’s entry on the University of Dundee’s Discovery Research Portal at

Conference papers

Reid: Between Priceless and Worthless - Challenges in using market mechanisms for conserving biodiversity
International interdisciplinary workshop on Regulatory and Institutional Frameworks for Markets for Ecosystem Services organised by the University of Surrey - Guildford, June 2012

Nsoh: Privatisation of Biodiversity - Who can Sell Ecosystem Services?
Socio-Legal Studies Association Annual Conference - York, March 2013

Reid: The Promise of the Market and the Role of the Private Sector - Biodiversity
International conference on Designing Effective Environmental Regulation organised by University College Dublin School of Law and the Irish Society for European Law - Dublin, May 2013

Reid: Between Priceless and Worthless - Challenges in using market mechanisms for conserving biodiversity
Institute of Chartered Foresters National Conference - Glasgow, May 2013

Reid: Biodiversity Offsetting and Conservation Covenants
UK Environmental Law Association Annual Conference, Nature Conservation Working Group - Cambridge, July 2013

Reid: New Approaches to Biodiversity Conservation
Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland, Annual Science Meeting - Edinburgh, August 2013

Nsoh & Reid: The Privatisation of Biodiversity?
Society of Legal Scholars Annual Conference (Environmental Law) - Edinburgh, September 2013

Reid: Biodiversity Offsetting
UK Environmental Law Association Scottish Conference - Edinburgh, October 2013

Presentations at the Biodiversity Conference

Professor Colin T Reid Presentation Mary Christie Payments for Ecosystem Services Presentation
Walters Nsoh Presentation Tom Tew Presentation
Brendan Costelloe Presentation Charles Cowap Presentation
Charlotte Lay Biodiversity offsetting Presentation Biodiversity Conference Turning Point Report
Elizabeth Cooke - Conservation covenants Presentation Biodiversity Project Summary Report
John Kilner Presentation Andy Tharme Scottish Borders Presentation

Want to know more about this project?

Academic involved:
Professor Colin T. Reid
Academic involved:
Dr Walters Nsoh