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Farah Theodore
Farah Theodore

The earth is our common home. Wherever we reside on this special planet, we proudly call our land, or my land in the case of private landowners. Yes. Private land ownership, which entails applicable rights, restrictions, and responsibilities is a concept introduced to various parts of the world via the common law legal system during colonial times. This alternative idea of land ownership perplexed indigenous communities who did not view land as property in such economic terms, which is also an integral part of wealth accumulation.

The Māori in New Zealand has concerns of their own in respect to settlements, and recognition of Māori Treaty rights, particularly in regards to ownership of rivers. It is generally understood that adjoining landowners have common law title to the riverbed centreline (ad medium filum aquae). Arguments have been made to justify the Crown holding title to rivers on the grounds of the protection of public rights of freedom of access, public fisheries, and navigation. Case decisions, particularly in New Zealand, about the ownership of rivers have placed great weight on the issue of navigability; owing to the point that if a river is navigable then it is a ground to prove crown ownership.

The issue is not private property rights per se but rather observing how the idea of property rights has evolved over time - "property rights are not immutable. They appear and vanish in response to economic, societal and environmental pressures and do so within institutional frameworks which differ geographically and over time" (Guerin, 2003, p.10)

Modern-day concerns about climate change and environmental protection have drawn attention to our understanding of private property rights juxtaposed against responsible land use and conservation. The state has a duty to its citizens, and natural resource management is imperative to any development goals. Individual landowners do not have as onerous an obligation to the public as the state. Consequently, the idea of stewardship involves reconciling private property rights with wider public interests in seeking to protect available natural resources. The potential to qualify private property rights through managing our resources lends support to the above-mentioned statement that property rights are not immutable. For clarity, stewardship places greater weight on one's duties to conserve our natural environment rather than one's rights over it. From an indigenous cultural perspective, notably the Māori traditions called kaitiakitanga is their recognised socio-environmental ethic of resource management in New Zealand which encompasses guardianship, preservation, and protection of the environment. What is of paramount importance is the acknowledgment that where we acquire rights, out of these rights flow responsibilities which are foundational on the type of restrictions that apply. The resources of the earth sustain life. The quality of our environment, terrestrial and marine ecosystems invariably affect the quality of our health and well-being with further impacts on overall development and sustainability. Therefore, our duty lies not only in actual possession of an identifiable area of property, but also out of respect for the earth, viewing it as a whole and knowing that we have a vested real interest in maintaining its integrity, and recognising that we are actually borrowing it from future generations. We will become more fulfilled when we act responsibly and nurture a good relationship with our surroundings and each other. Garbage doesn't disappear, it ends up somewhere; at present the parts that are broken down such as micro-plastics return to us on our plate or otherwise, to the point where micro-plastics are discoverable in the placenta of human babies.

Part of embracing and loving our planet is by exploring all that it has to offer. The freedom to roam is a concept endorsed by Nordic countries and other European nations which comprises four key elements:

i. Non-motorized access to certain public and private areas to the general public for responsible recreational use;

ii. One may forage or even fish on uncultivated land without the landowners' permission;

iii. Camping is allowed for a night or two with the understanding that the user does not do so too close to the landowners home(e.g. 200 - 300 feet), or in gardens or agricultural areas;

iv. Users should not disturb or damage wildlife or vegetation or crops, pick up all trash, leave what you find, leave the place in as good or better condition than found.

Sweden made provision in its constitution to safeguard 'every man's right' and the idea of Allemansrätten encourages forming deeper connections with nature and the environment. It is wonderful and liberating that residents and visitors are afforded such opportunity/broad rights to explore yet it is vital that respect must be had for the land and landowner. Additionally, following the guidelines of the leave no trace principles is indispensable to the enjoyment of these rights and privileges.

"Respect Mother Earth and her giving ways or trade away our children's days" - Neil Young.


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