The Vital Role of Built Property in Conservation
Built property is a fundamental part of our mission to Scale Conservation for people and wildlife. If people cannot live, work and play in the rural landscape how can we ever hope to inspire them to love, value, and protect it? Over the last two years, we have acquired ten Estates in nine counties and three countries totalling almost 30,000 acres of land. Whilst we have never purchased an Estate because of a specific built property, we are delighted to have more than 100 buildings across our portfolio and each of these is absolutely a feature – not a bug.
In this article, we’re going to explore some of the reasons why we’re committed to protecting, improving, and developing built property across our portfolio of landscapes.
Stewardship of Historic Properties
When we acquire an Estate and become custodians of a unique landscape, we also become custodians of the built environment that reflects the historical culture and context of that Estate. These properties may have unique and significant cultural and historical importance, with some being formally listed. By retaining ownership of these properties, we maintain the integrity of the Estate, preserving its heritage for future generations. This commitment to the localities and their cultural legacy is a marker of our ongoing dedication to the local community and our recognition that people and wildlife are both equally important to special places and spaces.
That does not mean that these buildings are easy to manage, to live with and sometimes to love, but we believe we’re well placed to accept the challenge and find ways to give them a future that can contribute in a meaningful way to helping us Scale Conservation.
Providing Sustainable Rural Homes
We are committed to providing high-quality, sustainable homes for people in the rural community and are working hard to understand how to do this in a cost effective way. These homes contribute to the sustainability of rural communities, combatting depopulation, and preventing rural infrastructure decline. Across the Oxygen Conservation portfolio, we have around 35 residential tenants and are hoping to welcome many more in the years to come as we repurpose, renovate, and develop buildings and new homes.
Repurposing Redundant Agricultural Buildings
Many Estates come with redundant agricultural buildings, which can be transformed into productive, sustainable spaces, and homes. These conversions align with our ambitious sustainability and energy efficiency goals. However, navigating planning regulations and achieving excellent development standards in this endeavour can be challenging and often prohibitively expensive. We are however committed to exploring technological developments, innovations, and improvements to make repurposing and retrofitting more efficient and effective all whilst sensitively respecting the natural environment.
Properties as Venues for Promoting Conservation & Ecotourism
Properties owned and managed by Oxygen Conservation often serve as venues to promote conservation work. Hosting events and activities on-site allows people to better understand the practicalities of conservation efforts and emotionally connect with incredible spaces and places. This not only educates visitors and guests but also opens doors for partnerships and potential funding opportunities.
Additionally, some properties we will repurposed provide exceptional opportunities for eco-tourism, promoting sustainable tourism practices that align with conservation objectives: helping create experiences within the natural environment as well as local employment.
Lessons in Retrofitting and Reducing Carbon Impact
We are acutely aware of the challenges posed by the UK’s ageing housing stock, one of the oldest in Europe. Retrofitting these properties and understanding embodied carbon impacts are key challenges. By addressing these issues, we hope to contribute to wider efforts to reduce carbon emissions and create more sustainable living spaces. We recognise this will be incredibly difficult, especially within historically significant and listed properties, but in this regard, we will do what we can, with what we have, to help move the industry forward.
Overcoming Challenging Planning Situations
We often identify tensions concerning the potential for property development in rural environments, particularly in locations perceived as sensitive. Some areas are considered by most to be “unsustainable” for development due to their location outside of settlement boundaries. However, many of these areas have hamlets and villages where people have lived in otherwise ‘remote’ rural areas for generations. Many are now suffering from loss of social infrastructure, at least in part as a result of planning decisions or small protectionist factions of the local community that have sought to ‘preserve’ those areas. We believe that there is still a place for sensitive rural development, even within National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), to help combat rural decline and ageing populations. Such development contributes to local economies especially where high-quality, sustainable, and architecturally ‘beautiful’ properties can add to the environment, not detract from it. (Editor’s note – beauty continues to be a planning hot topic and a blog for another day!)
Built Property: An Asset, Not a Liability
While many organisations, especially charitable environmental organisations view built properties as ongoing liabilities and avoid their purchase or seek to exit them as soon as practicable, we hold a different perspective. We firmly believe that you cannot holistically manage the land for both people and wildlife without built property. Owning property connects people to a landscape, allowing it to be explored, cared for, and enjoyed. This connection fosters a sense of stewardship and enhances the overall conservation effort.
Furthermore, Oxygen Conservation sees built property as a key part of protecting and growing capital investment. Through the stewardship of historic properties, provision of sustainable rural homes, repurposing of agricultural buildings, and the promotion of conservation work, we make a positive impact on both local communities and the natural environment.
These properties serve as assets that not only support our conservation initiatives but also contribute to the long-term sustainability of our mission. They are an essential part of holistic land management for people and wildlife which underscores our commitment to preserving and growing capital investment in our natural world.