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To What Extent Can Conservation Work for Development? Essay

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Updated: Dec 26th, 2020


Conservation development is a concept within real-estate and land development which seeks to utilise the principles of natural resource protection in the process of design and construction (“What is Conservation Development”). It has become a critical trend in recent years with growing concerns about the human impact on wildlife ecosystems. The applicability of land conservation practices in a wide variety of development projects and locations makes it an essential sustainability strategy. While dynamic practices of residential conservation development offer tangible benefits to residential communities and provide fulfilment of long-term environmental objectives, they do require significant investment and modifications to current land development policies.


Conservation development introduces techniques to land-use planning and real-estate design which is aimed at minimising the impact on natural resources. Residential and urban development are the primary factors in land-use change, and can result in rapid fragmentation of biodiversity and significant disruption to natural networks. Residential land development occurs on private lands at lower elevations, which have highly concentrated ratios of biological life forms, thus making urbanisation particularly damaging. In turn, reduced biodiversity begins to impact on ecosystem services that directly correlate with population health and the production yields of the agricultural sector (Feinberg et al. 87). Conservation formulates strategies to manage urbanisation through the introduction of various practices and policies to reduce the ecological footprint of land development.

Types of Land Conservation

There are several principle areas of conservation development, which differ based on economic and ecological viability. Conservation buyer projects focus on purchasing critically important land by trusts and reselling it to owners who place conservation easements on the property. Limited development projects are used by land trusts and conservation-conscious developers. Real estate on the land remains a minor percentage of typically allowed development under the area’s legislation. Conservation-oriented planned development projects are mass-scale construction endeavours, which range between 500-1500 hectares. On such a scale, small amounts of land designated for conservation from each lot begins to add up to form large open areas that consist of 10-50% of the original development region (Milder 760-763).

The most common type of residential development is the formation of subdivisions in suburban areas of major urban centres. It is difficult to implement the above strategies in residential zoning due to limited and expensive land space and uniform neighbourhood designs. Therefore, facing the issues of urban sprawl and environmental preservation, developers and community leaders began to challenge traditional designs. This also occurred since the destruction of ecological services evidently impacted on the quality of life. It led to the most popular type of conservation development known as cluster development. Although this technique may differ based on region, it uses similar principles, which seek to preserve open space by minimising residential lot size. Homes are clustered in a denser area while the remaining lot area is used for green space, which can be utilised by the community (“Cluster/Conservation Development”). This approach is considered to be most effective regarding residential development, but in most zoning areas requires updates to legislation which would establish new regulations for urban planning.

Community Characteristics

Conservation development and sustainability planning have been found to be dependent on specific community characteristics, both in demographics and design. Population size and availability of fiscal resources allows for the creation of appropriate infrastructure to stimulate sustainable land-use. Often, larger communities attempt to implement environmentally-friendly policies. Urbanized neighbourhoods with a wider availability of social resources, such as education and coalitions, are more inclined towards conservation of biodiversity (Göçmen and LaGro Jr. 1516). However, a significant aspect of conservation relies on the planning capacity of the community. Land development is a complex process, which is based on policy, communication, municipal engineering, and ecological sciences. There must be an efficient process of design, proposal, and evaluation of any land-use plans and regulations. Communities must possess relevant environmental knowledge, which guides values and attitudes that are used in advocating land-use. Socio-economic factors such as income and infrastructure also play a role. Each individual neighbourhood differs as to the availability of developable land and the natural resources which require conservation, factors that significantly impact sustainable development. Lastly, the planning capacity is based on legislative regulation and a community’s ability to recruit competent staff to aid in the project’s management (Göçmen and LaGro Jr. 1522-23).

Challenges and Recommendations

Conservation development is utilised on average in less than a third of counties or land-use projects. The global recession of 2009 has decreased the rate of adoption due to rising costs. Conservation development ordinances are often ineffective since they are intermixed with other development regulations aimed at economic or cultural objectives rather than specifically at environmental preservation. According to Reeds et al., the following are key limitations and recommended solutions to critical issues in conservation development ordinances (265).

Approximately 13% of ordinances support ecological site analysis; less than 5% require it to be completed at the design stage. Since protected land should maintain native biodiversity, ecological site analysis should be necessary for guidance during the design process.
97% of ordinances allow land to be divided into multiple parcels but less than a third support contiguity of protected land within or outside the property. Biodiversity is supported at a much greater scale in large patches rather than isolated parcels; therefore, contiguous open networks of land should be formed.
Only 8% of ordinances support the guidance of an ecological expert on the conservation design. Biological experts and data are critical for proper conservation development. The design may be ineffective or even damaging to the environment if proper measures are not taken. An ecological expert should be present during all stages of development.
72% of ordinances lack the requirement of management or observation plan of the protected land. Zoning regulation should stipulate a formulation of mechanisms, which would be used to monitor and manage biodiversity and natural resources on protected land.
37% of ordinances do not have an established length of time during which the lands are preserved and 11% outline a limited time period. Legislative protection should be implemented and enforced which would protect conservation land for significant periods by government agencies.
52% of ordinances offer financial incentives as a bonus for increasing density during conservation development. Increased residential density leads to reduced biodiversity and ecological integrity. Other methods of incentivising conservation development should be offered, and additional revenue invested in environmental restoration.

Future Directions

Any attempt at ecological preservation through conservation development should be a long-term objective. While certain stages of planning and design discussed above should be carefully followed to minimise residential development impacts, protected lands require management and upkeep to maintain their environmental functions. Specific areas around the world with extensive ecological networks and biodiversity have become centres for development as populations migrate to regions where the environment provides a high quality of life. However, without proper guidelines, this ends up being detrimental to the natural habitats: “Protection of natural resources becomes imperative for environmental, economic, and social vitality” (“The Future of Residential Development: Balancing Conservation with Development”). Conservation development becomes critical in identifying biological resources and ecological habitats, which can be protected through land-use management.

Establishing a balance between residential growth and environmental preservation is imperative. Most regulatory policies are met with severe opposition from various stakeholders in residential development due to the financial insolvency of such projects at this time, disregarding any long-term impacts on the human population as well. The most successful enabling conditions were found in incentive-based policy rather than mandatory regulation. Education of the population about the impacts of environmental degradation was also helpful to foster support. However, the three primary mechanisms, which maintained support for conservation development, were: stakeholder design, marketing campaigns, and integration of regulatory bodies. Stakeholder design is meant to incentivise relevant groups to participate and adopt various types of conservation during development processes. Marketing campaigns focus on spreading awareness in the community by highlighting benefits of conservation while creating pressure on developers to adopt such practices. Finally, integration is meant to create a unified regulatory front amongst government agencies so that appropriate measures can be implemented and enforced across all aspects of planning or construction (Hostetler and Reed 295).


It is evident that the practices of residential conservation development produce benefits for ecological biodiversity as well as improvement of human communities. Although these practices may vary based on region, community composition, and planning capacity, there are advantages to conserving open space during land development. In order for conservation development to be adopted on a broader scale, additional research should be conducted on the environmental benefits and long-term sustainability. Furthermore, specific guidelines should be provided on the implementation of these techniques in land surveying and urban planning since communities choosing to become environmentally sustainable through conservation often lack the knowledge or human resources to adopt the practices. Overall, the change in land development would have the most success if municipal governments implement appropriate policies and regulations.

Works Cited

University of Illinois, n.d., Web.

Feinberg, Daniel, et al. Landscape and Urban Planning, vol. 136, 2015, pp. 87-96, Web.

Equinox, n.d., Web.

Göçmen, Aslıgül, and James A. LaGro Jr. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, vol. 59, no. 8, 02 Nov. 2015, pp. 1513-1535, Web.

Hostetler, Mark, and Sarah Reed. “Conservation Development: Designing and Managing Residental Landscapes for Wildlife.” Urban Wildlife Conservation, edited by Robert McCleery, Christopher Moorman and M. Nills Peterson, Springer, 2014, pp. 279-302.

Milder, Jeffrey. BioScience, vol. 57, no. 9, 1 Oct. 2007, pp. 757-768, Web.

Reed, Sarah, et al. Conservation Biology, vol. 28, no. 1, 2015, pp. 258-268, Web.

“What is Conservation Development.” Colorado State University, 2016, Web.

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