In the midst of this life that occupies us each and every hour of the clock, and in which we very often live against the current of natural rhythms, sometimes there are times when this is reversed. One word, custody, these days has circulated from the world to Barcelona, from Barcelona it has returned to the world and from the world it has traveled to every handful of land, without haste but with determination. This is how the information circulated during the 1st European Congress of Custody of the Territory that was held in the Catalan capital during the first week of November.
The congress, part of a Life project of the European Union and led by the Network of Custody of the Territory, served as a starting point to lay the foundations of a large European network (and sooner or later) for custody . To talk about this concept, custody, we inevitably have to exchange experiences with everyone; despite being a land management and conservation mechanism that has been in place for a few decades now, it remains an open and, to some extent, modelable concept.
Taking the root of the custody of the territory, we can understand it as a great agreement between owners and entities willing to promote a management that ensures the conservation of certain environmental values and has a positive impact on the natural and social environment. But the congress has gone much further, in fact the very title of the congress already told us everything “Land: Quality of life”. What did they want to convey with such a simple but at the same time intense statement? Because the land provides us with quality of life and we can only maintain it if we conserve the territory in a certain way and applying good practices that, no doubt, the custody offers.
This must be an effort on the part of everyone, starting with those who have a view of property as something unalterable and rigid, in which no external agent (neither public nor private) can intervene. Where is the social and environmental function of property? Why can’t we open the property to entities with recognized experience in the sustainable management of the territory, in the revaluation of the land and in the maintenance of an ecosystem environmental services that have a direct impact on human well-being? For all these questions, the congress did not offer answers, but real and successful cases in Catalonia and around the world. Custody has come to stay.
If I stated that the congress went beyond the basics, I also say that because you could hear excellent papers that raised issues such as marine custody and river custody. Yes, it may seem strange that in spaces regulated by a public domain there may be interference by (private) custodians, but the facts show this with cases on the coasts of the Maresme and Empordà, in the Douro basin, in certain parts of the Ebro, among others. Where the public administration does not reach, due to lack of resources, will or negligence, there may be a custodian entity capable of weaving a responsible management of the territory for the benefit of all, never for a particular benefit, let alone profit.
Innovation in the approach to the bases of custody also came when some papers addressed the need to help custody projects with tax benefits that encourage the positive externalities that a given management can do of the territory. Examples such as payments for environmental services, which have been operating in Latin American countries and in some European countries for years, put us on the table that the concept of the polluter must be replicated and paid for by those who keep. But here we must put all possible precautions and take it with as many tweezers as necessary to structure it well and that the toys do not appear also in environmental conservation. The Congress stressed that all payment for environmental services, linked to custody, must have good legal basis, must be led by environmentally recognized entities, with solid and quality projects, with financial guarantees and as a mechanism for compensation for impacts generated by third parties in the environment. In short, whoever pollutes pays, but whoever retains pays. Closed circle.
The guard cart is very large, is pulled by very strong horses and it looks like everyone is willing to get on it. At the congress we were able to see how economic sectors that have clearly had a serious impact on the environment for many years, are now shown in society as the first to restore their impacts through land stewardship. I’m talking, for example, about quarries. In Collserola there has been a successful case of restoration of an extractive activity through an agreement with a custodian entity. But from here to extrapolate it to the whole sector there is a slight difference. It would seem surreal to me that quarries such as those that have devastated much of the territory of Riudecols, Colldejou, Vilanova d’Escornalbou, Alcover, Albiol and so many other municipalities in the Camp, now turn a blind eye and become the holy saviors and martyrs of the environment environment. In the acceleration of custody, caution is needed and, above all, the costs and responsibility for conservation should not be borne by the entities.
And I will end with one of the headlines of the congress that probably summarizes the first ten years of custody in Catalonia: “Custody must be understood as a tool, not as an end.”