Loss of natural heritage is a problem that is particularly prevalent in areas of high population density. A 2013 survey looked at the factors behind decisions that landowners in the Upper Thames and Grand River watersheds make with regards to environmental behaviour. The survey was mailed to 18,090 rural route addresses, and we received 3,256 usable surveys (18% response rate). General analysis focusing on 600 respondents considered to be farmers was completed, but the TRCWR provided funding, through the Canada-Ontario Agreement (COA) for additional analysis. The information can help guide the design of stewardship and education programs, as we move to implement the new nutrient targets.
Two types of environmental behavior, namely voluntarily increasing the area of land set aside for conservation, and enrollment in a conservation stewardship program, were significantly correlated with a positive attitude towards conservation and varied with reliance on farm income. Environmental behavior did not differ between the two target watersheds, nor did it vary with property size, length of ownership, debt load, age, or education level.
We also showed that out of seven types of conservation land, landowners were most likely to add windbreaks to their land and to remove open ditches. Contrary to our expectations, we found that the biggest motivator to enroll in a wetland enhancement program was access to ‘more information on how the decline in wetland area affects them personally’, while ‘public recognition’ was the least motivating factor.
We suggest that enrollment in voluntary land stewardship programs might be increased by providing information about the effects of ecosystem loss, and by providing financial incentives for participation. In a larger social context, outreach programs by government agencies could focus on improving pro-environmental attitudes which, in turn, are likely to result in more pro-environmental behaviour of landowners.