The opportunity to speak to show host Mike Davis arose after a chance meeting at the recent Melbourne Accelerator Program Demo Day, where Wilderlands were one of eleven teams who took the stage to share how our Biological Diversity Units are enabling businesses committed to becoming ‘nature positive’ to take action today.

Wilderlands have created the world’s first one square metre voluntary biodiversity unit that promises permanent protection and active management of high-ecological value projects across Australia.

Listen to the episode below

Co-developed by a six generation farmer in Paul Dettmann, Ash explains that the genesis for the idea came to Paul after decades trying to protect precious biodiversity on his own properties but recognising that for many landholders the incentive to preserve nature has always relied on an altruistic driver, rather than being a financially sustainable path that rewards those trying to protect the planet.

“You can make money clearing land, you can make money restoring land, but now Wilderlands provides a way to make protecting your land a viable path for landowners.” 

Ash Knop

The Wilderlands solution leverages existing state conservation covenant regulations to deliver a solution that ensures that once a project is protected it is legally bound to be preserved in-perpetuity (through on-title agreements) and creates the ability to essentially turn these properties into private national parks. 

Ash Knop (right) with Co-Founder Paul Dettmann (middle) and Heath Evans (right)

The solution comes at a time when the world is making major commitments to put biodiversity protection as a priority for governments across the globe, with Australia’s recent commitment to protect 30% of nature by 2030 equating to an equivalent of 60 billion square metres needing to be protected in this timeframe.

It’s a daunting prospect and Ash is the first to say that the Wilderlands solution doesn’t aim to solve all of this, but rather recognises that so many of the species we’re trying to protect actually live on privately held land so it’s critical that we find a way to support landholders wanting to protect their properties and preserve the biodiversity who call these lands home.

“We want to make sure there’s still a home for the birds and the bees as they don’t just live on publicly held land.”

Ash Knop
Explore a Day with Deanna Marshall, Wilderlands Lead Ecologist.

But not just any property would be suitable for protecting via the Wilderlands platform.

Ash explains that a rigorous assessment criteria helps determine whether a project would reach the level of biodiversity significance to be considered, and once that is determined a management plan is developed by Wilderlands Lead Ecologist adding additional levels of management and monitoring over and above the base protection required for any covenanted property.

“It’s about going above what is required and developing conservation plans that are truly focused on protecting these projects and creating an environment for biodiversity to flourish.”

Ash Knop

This approach requires a conservation partner with capabilities to deliver the work required which is why Wilderlands chose Cassinia Environmental as our first partner.

With over 20 years of conservation experience Cassinia has delivered more than 100 landscape scale projects across Australia, permanently protecting over 22,000 hectares of vulnerable habitat and recently selected to be the Victorian Government’s partner of choice for the BushBank project, due to their recognised as a leader in biodiversity protection.

Through the partnership Wilderlands gained access to four projects representing over 7.5 million square metres to protect and spread across Victoria, NSW, and South Australia and the chance to work with a trusted partner to prove the business model before expanding to other landholders in the years to come.

Wilderlands Paul Dettmann working alongside Wayne Mark at the Coorong Lakes project.

Ash explains that the Wilderlands partnership structure with landholders has been carefully designed to not only reward the partner for delivering against the management plans each year, but also considers a payment structure that ensures work would continue if the property were sold and new owners became responsible for delivering the work.

“We pay a portion of the funds raised from every unit sale immediately to the landholder and the rest is held in a trust and paid as an annuity over the 20 years based on meeting key management requirements each year.”

Ash Knop

Since launching in August 2022, Wilderlands have protected over 85,000 square metres thanks to the generosity of supporters ranging from individuals to philanthropists, as well as small business and most significantly large enterprises.

Ash said the interest from big businesses wanting to work with Wilderlands was reflective of the expectations on organisations to start disclosing their impact on nature and developing plans to mitigate their footprint and proactively preserve their most precious resource – nature. 

“Businesses are recognising that biodiversity is following a similar path to climate active and carbon credits, and nature positive is set to become to the new net zero.”

Ash Knop

The global focus on climate change and biodiversity loss both began in earnest almost 30 years ago but there’s no doubt one has progressed faster than the other, but Ash was quick to observe that since 2020 the crisis of biodiversity loss has gained significant global attention, impacting the global economy and pushing for a nature-positive economy by 2030.

He said three major global frameworks and standards were guiding the shift with the Kunming-Montreal Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, set by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, Taskforce on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), and the Science-Based Targets Network (SBTN), shaping the transition to a nature-positive future, defining the roles and expectations for companies in both mitigating their environmental impact and actively contributing to biodiversity conservation, with biodiversity credits emerging as a key tool in this endeavour aiming to channel private finance into projects with positive biodiversity impacts.

Wilderlands Co-Founder’s Ash Knop with Paul Dettmann at the UN’s COP15 in Montreal.

Wilderlands have deliberately developed a voluntary biodiversity unit, rather than an offset, believing that the path to making the change required to achieve the global goals for biodiversity impact should not be reliant on doing damage before doing good.

“Focusing on offsets is a zero sum game. We believe protecting what we have should be a critical priority for the planet, and businesses are starting to realise this with over 50% of our GDP reliant on nature so biodiversity loss is bad for business and that realisation is enough to act.”

Ash Knop

The first step for many businesses is quantifying their impact on nature and this requirement is seeing solutions with Australian startup Xylo Systems becoming a first call for senior leaders looking to understand where their organisations have a reliance on biodiversity across their business.

Once an organisation understands their footprint they often will engage Wilderlands as part of their nature positive plan looking to purchase biodiversity units or credits as a proactive measure to demonstrate their commitment to protecting nature.

Adelaide Festival partnered with Wilderlands to protect a patch of vulnerable habitat in the Coorong.

Examples of organisations working with Wilderlands include Adelaide Festival, Alive Body, and Lendlease who have used the credits in creative ways to embed impact across their events, products, and even as a solution for staff which has been the basis for a new partnership with corporate gifting platform Elliephant who were also part of the Melbourne Accelerator cohort in 2023. 

“If you’re going to tackle a problem as big as biodiversity loss, you start one square metre at a time.”

Ash Knop

Asked why Wilderlands had chosen one square metre as the metric for measurement rather than a hectare as preferred by other biodiversity credit developers, Ash said the metric provided greater granularity and precision, as well as enhanced ability to offer a solution that is more accessible for individuals and versatile for organisations looking to start protecting nature today. 

For businesses wanting to connect with Wilderlands to discuss their nature positive plans and explore how Wilderlands can help, please reach out to the team via our contact page.