The Ireland Land Trust

William Roper

"One of the significant attributes of the Land Trust arrangement is that it is a voluntary
process - the farmers come to the process and work with the Land Trust and agree to the imposition of certain restrictions on the farm that will prevent future development.


Landscape protection is ordinarily either an intrinsic goal or an imposed objective. In
response to development encroachment on significant habitats, coastal zones and
aesthetic amenities, Irish communities have slowly begun to wake up, and are
beginning to look at regional development plans as a tool for shaping future growth.

This presentation will cover:

  • The Ireland Land Trust being founded to provide an alternative means to achieve the end of landscape protection.
  • How the Land Trust differs from regional development plans and SAC's.
  • How the Land Trust accomplishes its goals.
  • Some examples to illustrate how the Land Trust would operate.
  • How one essential component of the Land Trust is adequate funding.

Now is a critical time in Ireland's land development. There are significant
opportunities to positively shape this development and avoid many of the mistakes
that abound in Europe and the United States.

There are many challenges facing the proposed Land Trust. The concept of
"development rights" is a new one and needs legislative attention. Ireland's laws on
charitable contributions and non-profit companies are antiquated and require
overhauling. We are attempting to ensure that the Land Trust's work will complement
rather than replicate other attempts at landscape protection. And, of course, the
biggest challenges lie in finding the right landowners to work with and the funding
necessary to make the land trust concept a reality in Ireland.

To date the concept has been very well received, and there is a high degree of
enthusiasm for the projected work and benefits. The long-term impact in the United
States has been profound, and there is no reason why the Ireland Land Trust cannot
succeed in Ireland.


Good morning, my name is Bill Roper, I'm from Vermont which is a state on the east coast of
the United States and I think it's probably going to be helpful if I tell you a little bit about

As you can tell, I'm from the United States, but I did live in Ireland last year for the year, in
Westport, and for the previous two years before that, knowing that I was going to live in
Westport, I spent many hours studying the environmental issues that Ireland was facing and
came over here regularly to make sure that what I was reading was in fact accurate. I
attended a number of conferences such as this one and I agree with Terry that there are many
types of issues that are discussed over and over again and hopefully this Forum can help
promote actual results rather than continued papers and talk, because I have been to too many
conferences where very good ideas were aired but did not really go anywhere beyond the
presentation of the reports and I think it behoves all of us to try and push it from the report
stage to actually having something happen on the ground.

Sara's talk today was a good overview of directives and legislation that have been passed, but
there is still obviously a great need to turn those regulations into effective management of the

I started coming over to Ireland in 1992 and that was actually my first view of the Irish
landscape and I have been very troubled by what I have seen over the last six years in terms
of what has happened in the landscape and part of what I was working on last year was to
look at what has happened just in the last six years, both in the west of Ireland and in other
parts of the country.

My life experience has been in the United States and if you look at what has happened in the
United States and you will see the mistakes that have been made, but you will also find that
solutions have resulted from those mistakes. In many ways in relation to certain landscape
and development issues the United States is now coming out the other side of the scenario, it
has experienced development, it has experienced the acrimony that development has
produced and now it's starting to implement solutions.

Part of what I worked on in the past year was to try to help Ireland avoid some of the mistakes
that have been made elsewhere. After spending a year talking with many people, working
with the county councils, it's a little unclear whether in fact Ireland is able to avoid the
mistakes, because if you look around the landscape, many of the same mistakes are already

One of the major mistakes that the United States experienced was the acrimony and the
division that resulted from land use development and part of what I tried to encourage last
year was avoidance of such acrimony.

In the United States as a result of development, the business community and the
environmental community often became very divided and there was very little discussion
between these two opposing sides until recently. Over the last five years however in the
United States, what you have started to see is the business communities, the government
communities and the environmental communities begin to work together instead of against
each other and there have been some very creative solutions where certain types of
development that at first posed serious threats to the landscape were revised and modified so
that they could be implemented in a way that was much more friendly to the environment.

So when I came over here what I discovered after talking with many people, particularly in
the West, (my main focus was there), was the fact that the communities are as fractured over
here as they were in the United States. Not only did I find divisions between the
environmental community and the business community, but I found very serious divisions
within the environmental community itself. People at the Forum here and at other fora face a
challenge in itself to mend these past rifts. I found that people have very long memories here
and people that should be talking together no longer talk together because of past perceptions
of betrayal and adversity. It's really later than it should be for people to start working together
again within the environmental community and to start to build the kind of bridges that are
necessary with the business communities, and the agricultural communities.

The West, in particular, shows a very serious divide between the farming communities and
the environmental communities and yet when I talk with farmers in the west I find what I
found in my state at home. My own state is an agrarian state, based on the dairy industry, but
it is also a very beautiful state. If you imagine the West of Ireland with a lot of trees then
that's Vermont. So it has a significant tourist industry but it's also got a significant farming
industry and often times, these can either work together or they can conflict.

What has happened in Vermont is that the tourism industry has realised that its beauty and its
character relies largely on the working farm and so they have tried to work with the farmers to
preserve the farms and thereby preserve the landscape and thus preserve the tourism that
results from that.

The other thing about a beautiful landscape is that it provides a quality of life that you won't
find in less beautiful surroundings. That's what you have in Ireland and in the West, you have
a very high quality of life in terms of the environment in which you live.

What Vermont has very successfully done is to capitalise on that quality of life, to draw in
industry and I have seen that happen in a general sense in Dublin. Dublin markets Ireland's
quality of life and then as a result a lot of industries come to Dublin. The West has been less
successful in being able to trumpet its quality of life and draw in industry because of
infrastructural issues.

As I talk and as I listen - what I see is a tremendously complicated picture where you have
major infrastructural constraints: the roads are not very good in the West. Where you can't
afford infrastructural development, you have problems with population decline and the
economic sector, but the poor infrastructure also inhibits the development of the tourism
sector. However if you want tourism you must improve the infrastructure which means more
cars, perhaps more by-passes, which impact on the landscape, so there are many complex
relationships that are difficult, but that still need to be addressed.

What I also found, and it reflects to some extent the serious concern voiced in Sara's talk, is
the high degree of frustration with the regulations. There are frustrations on both sides, on the
environmental side there is a frustration that the regulations are not stringent enough and are
not being enforced. On the other side there is a frustration that the regulations come from
above and don't always reflect the reality of the life of local communities, so you have one
side fighting for greater regulation and the other side fighting for less regulation.

Amongst the non-regulatory solutions that I have been talking about and trying to bring to
fruition in Ireland is something called the Ireland Land Trust. This is based on a Land Trust
that has been developed and utilised both in Vermont and around the United States and has
been a tremendously successful mechanism for promoting landscape and habitat preservation
in tandem with farming preservation.

This is how it works: the Land Trust is a non-profit organisation, it's not out to make money,
it's simply out to preserve landscape and farms. I should note the Ireland Land Trust is not
a corporate reality yet, under your laws it requires seven people to organise and begin the
corporation, we have got six out of the seven and during my trip here I hope to obtain the
seventh member so that we can become an actual corporate reality. I am quite confident the
seventh person is conceptually agreed. Then we will be up and running.

There will be a limited guarantee company that will likely achieve non-profit status under
your charitable status legislation.

So the Land Trust is almost a functioning corporate entity and I will now describe the way it
works in my State and then I will look at how it can work in Ireland.

This organisation focuses mainly on working farms and it solicits and receives applications
from farms all over the State and what these farms are looking for basically is money.
Money to help promote their livelihood, promote their longevity. These are farmers that have
typically been in operation for a number of generations and are looking for ways to continue
their farming activities. They are facing many of the same challenges as the farming industry
here in Ireland such as lower prices, and a lack of financial support on a number of different

And so the farmers apply to the Land Trust. The Land Trust in Vermont has been in
existence for twenty years so the financial aspects are now fairly secure. The farmer owns the
property and when the farmer looks to sell certain rights to the Land Trust, these do not
include ownership of the farm. The Land Trust does not buy the actual property ownership,
what the Land Trust buys is a thing called a development right, and the development right is,
for example, the right of a farmer to build another house on the farm, or to sell a site for a
commercial enterprise or an industrial manufacturer.

The Land Trust looks at the farm and looks at the regulations that apply to the farm, the soil-
type and all other features of the farm, and through a number of different snapshots, develops
a range of different scenarios as to how that farm can be utilised for development purposes
and so the Land Trust might conclude, based on the applicable regulations and the soils that
ten houses can be built on the farm, or that in any commercial zone under the regulations that
five commercial lots can be developed.

Whatever that development scenario is, once the Land Trust sizes up the development
potential for that farm, it then looks at the revenue the farmer would generate through that
development. So if for example ten houses could be built on this farm and house sites in the
area generally sell for œ20,000 then the development value is œ200,000. The Land Trust then,
through various financial means, is able to pay the farmer for that development value.
œ200,000 is typically more than the farmer will receive. The farmers in Vermont receive
anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000 at the most. So it can give rise to a fairly high economic
value and return for the farms.

It is a process that typically takes about a year. If the farmer agrees that the value is fair, or at
least acceptable the farmer will then eventually convey the development rights to the Land
Trust. The way that the conveyance occurs is through a document that is about 10 pages long.
The farmer agrees what can't be done on his land, and so typically if the Land Trust buys 10
development sites or the potential of 10 development sites it means that those sites will never
be developed. The Land Trust buys the rights to those development sites. But the Land Trust
is not a development company - it's not looking to develop the sites, instead it buys the sites
so that the farm will remain open and will remain in agricultural use.

There are uses that are both prevented within the covenants and uses that are allowed, so
typically the agricultural uses can be continued and actually expanded which is within the

One of the significant attributes of the Land Trust arrangement is that it is a voluntary process
- the farmers come to the process and work with the Land Trust and agree to the imposition of
certain restrictions on the farm that will prevent future development. So it's very different
from regulations being imposed on the farmers.

I am a also an environmental attorney, and I am a great believer in the power of regulations
and the need for regulations, so the Land Trust is not meant to replace the regulations, what
it's meant to do is supplement them and provide a different opportunity for the realisation of
an economic value in the farm.

The challenge for the Land Trust here is to find farmers and land owners (it doesn't
necessarily have to be a farmer) that are open to this kind of Land Trust idea. It has actually
generated a lot of interest in the west of Connemara and Mayo and we hope that our pilot
projects will be out in that area. In a country that has so jealously and so doggedly fought for
land ownership over such a long period of time, it is very hard to convince people that they
should start to give up some of these property interests now that they finally own them, but
there are people that are interested in the concept and I think once the Trust becomes a legal
entity and we have some pilot projects which show exactly how it works, we will begin to see
even more success - that's certainly been the case in Vermont.

In Vermont about 5% of the entire land area is now held by the Vermont Land Trust, which is
tremendous growth over 20 years and it has quite a significant impact when you start to
couple it with our State Parks and I see very real potential for that.

The same kind of scenario is here in Ireland. Let me explain the funding mechanics:
typically these are funded through a range of financial means. At governmental level in our
State we actually have a tax, so that when a person buys a piece of property they pay a tax and
a portion of that tax goes into a trust fund and then the trust fund is used to help finance this
kind of landscape preservation.

Two other significant sources are private membership and private contributions from
individuals and private foundations, about half of the Land Trust work is financed by private
foundations around the United States. Actually I have one foundation that is looking at this
proposal in Ireland with a fair degree of interest, I think and hope.

It's an idea that I have a very high degree of confidence in. It is almost a reality, and if you
have questions or comments I will be here for lunch and most likely for dinner and I look
forward to talking to you.


"The ultimate purpose of environmental activity should be to ensure that each
generation transmits to its successors a world that has the range of natural
wealth (enhanced, so far as possible), and the richness of human possibilities
that it received from its predecessors. Environmentally insensitive development
can threaten that goal. We need to acquire greater awareness and knowledge,
and more comprehensive understanding, of the interdependence between the
environment and all forms of human activity, especially those that bear upon the land, its soils, its waters, and its varied forms of life."

Daniel Hillel,
'Out of the Earth'
Civilisation and the Life of the Soil, University of California Press, 1991