• University of Leeds

Environmental Challenges: Hierarchy in Property Rights

How does language help us develop our relationship with nature and determine the rights of access and ownership?

18,990 enrolled on this course

Environmental Challenges: Hierarchy in Property Rights

Increasing populations and social changes are pressurising our relationship with the environment. Property rights are embedded in power structures and land management. This course explores the different ways that nature is perceived by different types of societies and the impact of property rights on natural resource management.

This course explores three approaches to the hierarchy of property rights, and applies these to environmental use and management around the world. It also includes advice on producing a policy brief for an environmental issue.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds Property rights and market-based exchanges of environmental goods and services dominate the way we govern social ecological systems. They are considered to be the foundations for the study of economics. But it’s not the only way of relating to nature, and alternative paradigms are often overlooked or dismissed. It’s not that one is wrong or the other is right, it’s about having an awareness that there is more than one language to describe nature.

Skip to 0 minutes and 46 seconds I’m Professor Jon Lovett, Chair in Global Challenges at the University of Leeds. My role here is to guide you through this course. We start by exploring three basic principles, hunter-gathers versus agriculturalists, the hierarchy of property rights, and more people, less erosion. These principles will then be applied to a classic case study looking at power and rights. We’ll explore how the values of the Tanzanian forests have changed in the last few hundred years from communal ownership to state ownership and then back to communal ownership again. We close the course with a discussion about language of nature. I’m joined by colleagues from the University of Leeds, as well as Abdullah Al-Mahri, a Mehri language expert.

Skip to 1 minute and 30 seconds And together we discuss how local languages are nuanced to describe the complexity of seasonal change. So how is nature perceived in your society? And what is the role of property rights in natural resource management? I look forward to hearing your thoughts and joining your discussions on the course.


  • Week 1

    The principles of hierarchy in property rights

    • Welcome

      Welcome to Hierarchy in Property Rights. This course explores three basic principles when considering natural resource management.

    • Hunter-gatherers vs agriculturalists

      This first principle looks at two ways of perceiving nature: the ‘giving spirit’ as understood by hunter-gatherers, and the ‘controlling ancestor’ as expressed by agriculturalists.

    • Hierarchy of property rights

      The second principle looks at the hierarchy of property rights, what they are and how they affect us.

    • More people, less erosion

      In the third principle, we discuss if an increase in population will result in a lack of available food sources or a more innovative and efficient agricultural practice.

    • Revision

      This revision activity is optional and is designed for those signed up for the Environmental Challenges Program.

    • Summary

      To close this week of this course, Jon will reflect on the week through a textual summary of discussions, questions and comments.

  • Week 2

    Applying the principles

    • About week 2

      This week we explore the basic principles in context, through a case study and topical discussion.

    • Case study: Power and rights

      In this activity we consider the role that power and property rights has had on the natural environment of Tanzania.

    • Discussion: the language of nature

      In this activity we discuss the language that is used to describe nature and property rights.

    • Writing about – Policy brief

      As promised at the beginning of the course, you now have the opportunity to write a policy briefing document.

    • Revision

      This revision activity is optional and is designed for those signed up for the Environmental Challenges Program.

    • Summary

      Jon reflects on the week through a textual summary of discussions, questions and comments. There is also an opportunity for you to test your understanding and find out more about the other courses in the program.

Who is this accredited by?

The CPD Certification Service
The CPD Certification Service:

This course has been accredited by the CPD Certification Service, which means it can be used to provide evidence of your continuing professional development.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and learn at your own pace. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

You can take this self-guided course and learn at your own pace. On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explain the difference in perceptions of nature between hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists.
  • Explore the different 'bundles' of access rights associated with natural resource ownership, as described by Ostrom.
  • Discuss Boserup’s theory that greater population densities can lead to improved land management.
  • Summarise a key environmental issue and produce a briefing note appropriate for decision making.

Who is the course for?

The course is suitable for anyone with a general interest in environmental decision-making; no previous knowledge or experience is required.

If you are working in environmental management, or wish to learn more about it, this course is designed to support you as a professional. By completing all aspects of the course you will have achieved 14 hours of CPD time.

Who will you learn with?

Jon Lovett is Chair in Global Challenges in the School of Geography at the University of Leeds and works on institutional economics.

Who developed the course?

University of Leeds

As one of the UK’s largest research-based universities, the University of Leeds is a member of the prestigious Russell Group and a centre of excellence for teaching.

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