Text and photos by Hans von Sonntag | 09.05. 2023

This is the situation: European biodiversity is still shrinking dramatically. Moreover, the European climate goals won’t be met without strong natural services that sequester millions of tons of carbon from the air. And the rewetting of heavily greenhouse gas-emitting degraded peatlands to stop their emissions is another pivotal aspect of climate warming mitigating nature restoration. To accomplish that, we must step up our efforts to a whole new level, including budgets. And we must act ASAP. As it stands, the taxpayer’s purse won’t be sufficient.

A 400 years cork oak wowed by participants on the field trip to the Burano reserve on Friday, 5 May, organised by WWF Italy, the European Conservation Finance Bootcamp host.


Peter Howell (Conservation Finance Network, USA) introduces Peter Stein (Lyme Timber, USA – below), who teaches the participants about conservation finance in an online session.

As so often is the case, the US sets the trend of resourcefully getting the private sector into nature conservation. This is because public money isn’t as available as in Europe, projects must be done quickly, and there’s money to be made. We in Europe have various programs with taxpayer money to finance nature conservation on a European level, LIFE, Horizon Europe, and Interreg, to name a few. And on a state and community level, there are uncountable options. But private money for conservation in Europe is still in its infancy.

Stefano Picchi (Conservation Finance Consultant) points out the importance of public funding for private funding.
Valérie Vandenabeele (Aanspreekpunt Privaat Beheer – Natuur en Bos), René de Bont (Federatie Particulier Grondbezit – FPG), and Tom Andries (LIFE B4B) who gave a overview on how the Life B4B project is financed.


How private money works in nature conservation finance is the million-dollar question that the European Conservation Finance Boot Camp tried to answer from May 2-5, 2023. Hosted by WWF Italy and organised by NABU, The Conservation Finance Network and Eurosite, and financed by LIFE, three days of intensive presentations and discussions showed several options to involve private money. The boot camp’s venue was the Terre di Sacra Glamping camping ground, Capalbio, Tuscany, Italy.

Carolina Halevy (Eurosite, LIFE ENPLC) introduces the European Conservation Finance Boot Camp programme to the audience.
The participants enjoy a meet and greet with local conservationists at the beach of Capalbio, Tuscany, Italy.

Using nature’s vital services through carbon credits, biodiversity credits, and blue credits (water) is the buzz everyone talks about because corporations must meet their ESG (ecological, social, governance) targets. At some point, investing in nature delivers precisely that. But how do we ensure these credits are secure and eligible? Block-chaining them will be one way–when there’s a science-based evaluation standard because missing trust, a volatile market, and the availability of projects are the biggest hurdles today.

Maximilian Loessl (AECO) discusses the aspects of ESG-driven biodiversity credits with Peter Howell. Maximilian also informed the audience of his thoughts on nature-positive carbon finance in peatlands restoration.
Peter Howell gives a short speech at the camp’s dinner. Out of focus in the front listens Tilmann Disselhoff (NABU), the event’s initiator.


But there are many other options to involve private money. Philanthropic grants that don’t need to be paid back come to mind, bank loans, revolving funds, businesses that rely on nature services (e.g., timber, fisheries, farms, or water companies), or governments that want private financiers kick-starting projects and manage them efficiently that will be sold to public bodies when successfully implemented.

Outcome-based financing, involving private and public money, was the subject of Eric Leitsinger’s (Quantified Ventures) entertaining online presentation.
Aiga Grasmane on the left (Latvian Forest Owners – LMIB) and Liene Brizga-Kalnina (Latvian Fund for Nature) raise their glasses to cheer the 33rd anniversary of the Day of the Restoration of Latvian Independence.


Often such projects are a blend of these options. Governments want a green solution, corporations wish to get credits for ESG, businesses want to make money off their land, and the taxpayers want healthy environments and wish to address the climate crisis.

Elizabeth Beall (Finance Earth) talks to her colleague Martha Pybus. Elizabeth introduced the audience to the investor’s perspective on conservation finance, showing the importance of blended finance.
A turtle is seen in the bushes while visiting the Burano reserve, managed by WWF-Italy.


The task is to blend meaningfully private and public money to finance nature restoration projects that meet the goals of the involved private parties and the public interests. There is no golden standard, one-size-fits-all, or the philosopher’s stone. Each restoration project has its own needs, rules, particular stakeholders and interested business, and an affected community that must have a big say.

Francesco Marcone on the right (WWF Italy) shows Cristi Gherghiceanu (Fundatia ADEPT) aspects of managing the Burano reserve’s beach.


The big challenge is to leave well-worn paths, think creatively and meet new friends in a domain that conservationists often see as their antagonist: the private sector.

Peatlands conservation expert Paul Leadbitter on the left (Northern Pennines AONB) in discussion with finance expert Caleb Wheeler-Robinson (Finance Earth).


Inga Račinska (Consultant) pitched the idea of a conservation finance accelerator hub to the audience.


Alessia Lenders (Sustainable Land Management Partners) explains SLM’s business model, which buys land, transforms its use into sustainable businesses, and sells the land after ten years.


The pressing question is how to overcome these cultural differences and ensure that nature won’t become another commodity for sale as we see it already with water and crop seeds which should be a common good but drifted in many cases into private possession.

Finance expert Andre Sarvarian (SSE), second on the left, talks to Tilmann Disselhoff (left) and Ronja Krebs (NABU).


Martha Pybus (Finance Earth) presents to the audience her project that aims to improve maritime habitats by involving stakeholders such as fisheries and conservation NGOs through a financing scheme.


Despite the compelling examples presented at the European Conservation Finance Boot Camp, all participants were adamant that regulations are essential to the equation. Whether conservationists or finance experts, both wanted government-backed rules for secure and predictable outcomes.

Max Hobhouse (Replanet) at Friday’s dinner. He introduced the audience to secure and eligible biodiversity and carbon credits schemes and their challenges.
From left to right: Anne-Sophie Mulier (ELO) and Mathias Brummer (Xarxa per a la Conservació de la Natura) follow the question Valérie Vandenabeele raises.
Alessia Lenders enjoys a talk with Andre Sarvarian.


After these three days, it was clear that the European Conservation Finance Boot Camp will inevitably become a yearly event because the cultural differences are much less than the challenges. And we are only at the very beginning. Exciting times.

Tilmann Disselhoff and Ronja Krebs (both NABU, one of the partners in the European Conservation Finance Bootcamp) take a rest on a jetson log at the Burano reserve beach.