The natural beauty of southern Vancouver Island is undeniable. Here in Metchosin we still enjoy towering forests, rugged coastline and rolling mountains that are home to Garry oak, Coastal Douglas-fir and the diversity of plants, animals and birds that are part of these at-risk ecosystems. But in most of the Western Communities, big box stores line the streets, condos are sprouting up and golf courses appear where before there was wilderness.
Landowners interested in preserving the natural character of their region are increasingly turning to a legal tool called a Conservation Covenant, an enforceable promise made by a property owner. The landowner promises that some or all of their land will only be put to use that fits with the goal of conservation. This can mean protecting the land ecologically, culturally, aesthetically or for recreation.
The Metchosin Foundation believes in protecting land and native wildlife and plants, many of which are globally at-risk, for future generations. A Conservation Covenant can create a legacy of ecological sustainability and environmental stewardship that lasts into the future. Landowners, especially those involved in estate planning, may make excellent use of this legal tool.
The most important aspect of a Conservation Covenant is that it stays with the land. Any individual or party who purchases or inherits the land also takes on the original promise. By making a Conservation Covenant, the landowner permanently limits the uses of that land, no matter how many times it changes hands. The Metchosin Foundation has been created to facilitate and support this process to help preserve the wild landscape of our municipality, much of which has been identified as globally at-risk.
Conservation Covenants are granted by landowners to "covenant holders", non-profit organizations that are able to ensure the terms of the covenant are being followed. In BC, a number of land conservancy organizations act as covenant holders to fulfill this role, including the Habitat Acquisition Trust (HAT) and The Nature Conservancy (TLC).
Each covenant is tailored to suit the unique attributes of an individual piece of property and the requirements of the owner who grants the covenant. One covenant might limit land use to organic farming; another to sustainable forestry; another might ensure pristine undeveloped land stays just the way it is.
Before rushing to sign up, it’s important to know that placing a Conservation Covenant on land might reduce its immediate monetary value. Buyers are not likely to pay as much for land if they can’t subdivide or develop a shopping mall. Moreover, there are associated expenses for the original survey of the land’s ecology and ongoing monitoring. Again, the Metchosin Foundation can help.
There might also be positive tax implications for granting a Conservation Covenant. Landowners are often eligible for a tax receipt, allowing them to claim a tax credit. Additionally, the covenant can mean property is assessed at a lower value because it’s no longer ripe for development. Property taxes then go down. Children can inherit land that might otherwise be unaffordable and they can enjoy it in its natural state.