Perceptions of the conservancy concept, common pool resources and the challenge of collective action across private property boundaries : a case study of the Dargle Conservancy, South Africa.
Conservancies are viewed as playing an important role in enabling the landscape-scale management of biodiversity and ecosystem services by extending conservation areas beyond the boundaries of formally protected areas (PAs). In the South African context of the Biodiversity Stewardship Programme (BSP), conservancies are viewed as a viable landscape-scale approach to stewardship that can contribute to meeting government conservation mandates of conserving biodiversity and expanding its protected area network outside state PAs, through partnerships with private landowners. Using the landscape approach theory, I determined that the landscapescale context of biodiversity and ecosystem services creates common pool resources (CPRs) that require collective action in the form of integrated management planning across private property boundaries. In this context, conservancies create multi-tenure conservation areas with landscape meanings and associated benefits that require landscape-scale collective action. However, using property and collective action theories, I deduced that when landowners in a conservancy seek to engage collective action for landscape-scale conservation objectives under the BSP, they are challenged by the tension between individual meanings defined at the scale of their own property and landscape-scale meanings that straddle property boundaries. This tension is reinforced by property rights in which each actor holds resources under a private property rights regime while the landscape-scale meanings of CPRs need to be addressed in a common property rights regime context. Based on this complexity, my research set out to determine peoples’ meanings attached to the concept of conservancy and to illustrate how these meanings influence the ability to attain collective action necessitated by the CPR management regimes superimposed on private property rights regimes. This was with the view to refine the concept of conservancy to enable those who establish and engage with conservancies to better appreciate the implications and the nature of the governance regime that is required for success. My results show that the success of a conservancy as a landscape approach is dependent on landowner commitment to collective action. Landowner commitment is also influenced by a shared understanding of the conservancy as a multi-tenure conservation area managed collectively for the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services across private properties. Thus Conservancy members need to develop an understanding of the conservancy as an area of contiguous multiple private properties that require collective management through integrated management planning, guided by a Dargle Conservancy management plan. Conservancy members also need to develop an understanding of the contiguous properties as encompassing biodiversity and ecosystem services that require common property rights regimes for their sustainable use and management. This explicit landscape approach will encourage landowner commitment to the conservation objectives set out in the multi-tenure conservation areas. I use my research findings to identify three issues for further research in community-based conservation areas as a landscape approach to conservation: firstly, research that focuses on developing integrated management plans for landscape-scale bio- and eco-regions by designating contiguous private properties into different categories of PAs according to collectively agreed conservation objectives; secondly, research that focuses on developing appropriate management regimes based on a model of multi-tenure conservation areas managed collectively for the conservation of biodiversity across private properties; and thirdly, research that focuses on establishing social structures for the development of adequate capacity and decision-making at the conservancy level to implement a landscape approach that supports ecological functions beyond individual boundaries. Building on this research will provide an important continuous learning process between conservancies and conservation agencies. Such learning is necessitated by the complexity of continually changing social and ecological systems that influence perceptions and behaviours.