Agricultural land ownership and nature conservation
: reconceptualising property to further environmental protection in Northern Ireland

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In 2020, Northern Ireland (NI) was ranked 12th worst out of 240 countries for biodiversity loss. The scale of the crisis in this jurisdiction cannot be underestimated. A number of factors have contributed to NI’s poor record in environmental governance but, as this thesis highlights, prevailing beliefs about the content and meaning of agricultural landholding have perhaps been overlooked in this narrative. This thesis seeks to understand more clearly the relationship between agricultural landholding and nature conservation in this jurisdiction and explores how property might be reconceptualised in a way that is more attuned to conservation concerns. The thesis argues that property, or more specifically, property ideology, is a critical factor in shaping environmental outcomes. The project suggests that a progressive conception of property, with a focus on social values, may produce more positive environmental outcomes than a conservative, law and economics approach. However, implementation of this view of property is hindered in NI due to a particularly complex property ideology, which is further complicated by the dynamics that relate to agricultural land as a specific form of property. Drawing on the work of Hanoch Dagan, the thesis proposes that conceptualising property as institutions may help to manage this complexity. It argues further that these efforts can be enhanced, from an environmental perspective, by incorporating the concept of resilience. This resulting view of property serves to inform the design of optimal governance frameworks, which can help to produce better environmental outcomes. The view of agricultural landholding set out in this work could have both theoretical and practical implications in NI, as the thesis will explain, but also further afield.

Thesis embargoed until 31st July 2027
Date of AwardJul 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorAlice Panepinto (Supervisor), Robin Hickey (Supervisor) & Mary Dobbs (Supervisor)


  • Property Law
  • land law
  • environmental law
  • environmental governance
  • agriculture
  • progressive property

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