Environmental Management

, Volume 45, Issue 4, pp 682–696 | Cite as

Towards a Duty of Care for Biodiversity

  • G. Earl
  • A. Curtis
  • C. Allan


The decline in biodiversity is a worldwide phenomenon, with current rates of species extinction more dramatic than any previously recorded. Habitat loss has been identified as the major cause of biodiversity decline. In this article we suggest that a statutory duty of care would complement the current mix of policy options for biodiversity conservation. Obstacles hindering the introduction of a statutory duty of care include linguistic ambiguity about the terms ‘duty of care’ and ‘stewardship’ and how they are applied in a natural resource management context, and the absence of a mechanism to guide its implementation. Drawing on international literature and key informant interviews we have articulated characteristics of duty of care to reduce linguistic ambiguity, and developed a framework for implementing a duty of care for biodiversity at the regional scale. The framework draws on key elements of the common law ‘duty of care’, the concepts of ‘taking reasonable care’ and ‘avoiding foreseeable harm’, in its logic. Core elements of the framework include desired outcomes for biodiversity, supported by current recommended practices. The focus on outcomes provides opportunities for the development of innovative management practices. The framework incorporates multiple pathways for the redress of non-compliance including tiered negative sanctions, and positive measures to encourage compliance. Importantly, the framework addresses the need for change and adaptation that is a necessary part of biodiversity management.


Duty of care Stewardship Biodiversity Policy instruments Australia 



Our thanks go to the many people whose ideas and comments have infused this article, including interviewees and participants in workshops discussing duty of care, held at the Department of Sustainability, Melbourne in April 2007 and September 2008. Associate Professor Ian Lunt, School of Environmental Sciences, Charles Sturt University engaged in valuable discussions about the interface between the duty of care framework and ecological processes. Gabrielle Lyndon, Librarian at the Productivity Commission in Melbourne, very graciously allowed us electronic access to public submission documents. We are very grateful to the two reviewers whose comments and suggestions have greatly improved this article. This research is supported by a post-graduate scholarship from the Future Farm Industries Cooperative Research Centre.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Land, Water & SocietyCharles Sturt UniversityAlburyAustralia
  2. 2.Future Farm Industries Co-operative Research CentreNedlands Australia

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