Property rights in ecosystem services

Document Type


Publication details

Brower, A & Page, J 2013, 'Property rights in ecosystem services', paper presented to the 2013 IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Annual Colloquium, University of Waikato, Hamilton NZ, 24-28 June.


In this paper, we will look at the relationship between property and ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are those services provided to society by intact ecosystems, and include recreation, water filtration, and carbon sequestration. Ecosystem services are anthropocentric in nature, benefitting human well-being. But they fit neither into fixed land parcel boundaries, nor orthodox conceptions of property. Hence they give rise to overlapping and pluralistic property rights, interests, usufructs and claims.

Using the well-loved peri-urban cultural landscape of Taylor’s Mistake, on the outskirts of Christchurch, NZ, as a case study backdrop, we will focus on 3 questions:

1) Who holds interests in ecosystem services on public land?

2) How do property interests correspond to ecosystem services when mapped to a localised landscape? and

3) What might different property arrangements mean for ecosystem services themselves?

Theoretically, this paper will build on ideas of ecosystem services in landscapes, property plurality, and the legal geography of localised place. Using Taylors Mistake as a backdrop will highlight and draw on ideas such as Nicholas Blomley’s ‘diversity of property on the ground’ or Hanoch Dagan’s ‘lived experience of property.’ We hope the paper will start a scholarly conversation about the practical, on the ground, implications of property rights arrangements for ecosystem services.