Skip to Content
LAND CONSERVATION

Local governments that protect land

Local governments may protect land in two primary ways:

  • park and recreational facilities development
  • Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) Programs

For more information about parks in your locality, contact your local government planning office or parks and recreation department.

Local governments also have programs that encourage rural land uses, but do not protect land in perpetuity. For more information about land use taxation, and agricultural and forestal districts, see

Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) Programs

A locality can become actively involved in land conservation by developing and enacting an easement program or ordinance. These are usually called Purchase of Development Rights Programs. A PDR program enables a locality to preserve working lands such as farms and working forest lands, as well as open space and natural areas by restricting future development of the land while permitting landowners to continue to use their land as they had been. To do this, localities can purchase conservation easements from private landowners. Localities can also accept donations of easements, in which case landowners are often eligible for tax incentives. For more information about PDR programs aimed at protecting working lands, see the Virginia Office of Farmland Preservation website and the American Farmland Trust website.

Several localities in Virginia have PDR programs. Click on the following links to read about them.

Other local entities

Soil and Water Conservation District: What they are, what they do

Virginia has 47 soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) that address communities' needs regarding the conservation of water, soil and other precious natural resources. SWCDs were established across the nation in the 1930s to plan and implement programs to conserve soil, control and prevent soil erosion, prevent floods, and conserve, develop and manage water. Some districts comprise one jurisdiction whereas others comprise several. Many include cities. Virginia's SWCDs cover 110 counties and cities encompassing more than 95 percent of the state's land base. Nearly all Virginians live within an SWCD. A board of directors, most of whom are elected, leads each district. Districts also employ staff to carry out programs and services.

Virginia law enables districts to accept land for conservation. Districts may hold easements directly or partner with others as co-holders. Since each SWCD is an independent, autonomous political subdivision of the state, each determines its degree of involvement in land conservation. Some have little or no involvement in conservation easements, others actively accept land conservation roles such as holding easements. A comprehensive list of SWCDs is found here.