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Land Administration & Management: Ready for Nature-based Solutions....... or Not?

Photo by Annegret Kammer

Thinking about implementing Nature-based solutions? Are your land management and administration governance structures ready? If the answer is ‘no’ or even ‘maybe’, then it is time to look at your governance, workflows and business processes before embarking on a complicated program that, despite best intentions, could easily fail. 

Land management and administration and NbS are intertwined. NbS play a crucial role in land management and land use by offering sustainable, cost-effective, and multi-purpose alternatives that enhance ecosystem services and promote desirable soil and landscape functions. But if the business process and governance components, particularly in the public sector which are resistant to change, are not addressed first, then NbS programs will likely not achieve the desired results.

Integrating NbS into land management and administration policies must also be reflected in workflows, inter-agency cooperation, transparency, capacity and the overall governance structure of the institutions responsible. The steps required can be summarized in 5 key components:

First, NbS should be mainstreamed into land management strategies. This integration ensures that NbS become a central component of land management policies.

Second, land management policies must be aligned with NbS principles by incorporating practices that protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural and modified ecosystems.

Third, policies must be developed that support sustainable land use practices by promoting the use of NbS as a cost-effective, multi-purpose, and flexible alternative. These policies should encourage the adoption of NbS to achieve various objectives related to land management and ecosystem conservation.

Fourth, NbS should be integrated into policies aimed at enhancing resilience in land management by weaving natural features or processes into the built environment. This approach promotes adaptation to climate change, reduces flood risk, improves water quality, protects coastal property, and restores critical ecosystems.

Finally, collaboration between governmental and non-governmental organizations to implement NbS effectively in land management must be encouraged. Providing training opportunities for stakeholders to build knowledge and capacity in implementing NbS within existing regulations and frameworks is essential.

Land management, through NbS, should aim to enhance ecosystem services by promoting soil health, maintaining or restoring local ecosystem services, and improving landscape connectivity. This approach reduces flood risk, increases soil moisture, mitigates droughts, and minimizes soil erosion, contributing to the sustainability of catchment systems.

Importantly, a strategy should be centred upon the fact that NbS is cost-effective in the long term. Case studies like organic farming in Spain, rewilding in Slovenia, land restoration in Iceland, sediment trapping in Ethiopia, and wetland construction in Sweden, have shown NbS potential as cost-effective long-term solutions for hydrological risks and land degradation.

By integrating NbS into land management practices, governments can harness the benefits of nature-based approaches to improve soil health, enhance ecosystem services, reduce risks associated with land degradation, and foster sustainable land use practices that align with broader conservation and development objectives.

Some other practices arising from NbS that can be applied to land use and management are land conservation and greenways; neighbourhood or site-scale practices such as managing rainwater where it falls to reduce stormwater runoff through techniques such as permeable pavement and tree trenches; and, NbS in coastal areas focusing on stabilizing shorelines, reducing erosion, and buffering coastlines from storm impacts. Forestry, restorative agricultural and wetland-related practices are additional sectors where NbS enhance sustainability through land management.

In conclusion, all the long-term environmental, social and cost benefits that arise from NbS, regardless of the best intentions of establishing and embedding NbS into policy, can be seriously compromised during implementation if public sector governance is not addressed.  Public institutions usually face regulatory or policy constraints that hinder the implementation of NbS, such as zoning restrictions, land use policies, or lack of incentives for private sector involvement. Organizational structures within public institutions may not be aligned to support the integration of nature-based solutions into planning and development processes. Overcoming organizational silos and fostering collaboration across departments is crucial for successful implementation and involves comprehensive business process analysis and the likelihood of organizational re engineering.

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