Protecting Chesco's Farmlands, Natural Areas, and Cultural Resources

Posted February 18, 2022


Preserving our farmlands, natural areas, and cultural resources is fundamental to protecting Chester County's quality of life, enhancing its economy, and maintaining the character that residents and visitors so highly value. Permanently protected lands limit development pressure on critical resources and often provide for public access offering people of all ages a place to connect to streams, woodlands, and wildlife.

With factors like heightened use and value placed on outdoor recreation since the pandemic, the threats presented by climate change, a new wave of interest in suburban living, and mounting pressures on farming — preserving land is more important now than ever.

Back in the 1940s, Chester County landowners established some of the first land trusts to preserve land throughout the county, and today, Chester County has nearly 30%, or 144,000 acres, of open space protected because of it.

The purpose of land trusts and conservancies is to protect open space from development by either acquiring land in-fee, or by protecting it through a conservation easement. This means that, rather than purchasing a property directly, a mutual agreement is made between a private land trust, conservancy or government and the landowner, which allows each entity to have exclusive use of the land for a specific purpose. Typically, conservation easements limit future development of properties, allowing the landowner to continue using the land as they wish within the constraints of the agreement.

Agricultural conservation easements are used to specifically protect agricultural land to ensure that the land remains in agricultural production by removing most (or all) or its non-agricultural development potential. The details of each agricultural easement offer opportunities for the compensation to the landowner in many ways such as tax benefits from donating value, tax benefits from reducing the value of the farm "estate," or income that may be received.

Chester County currently tracks and reports the amount of farmland protected through agricultural easements each year, which can be found in the Open Space section of our website.

Examples of conservation easements in Chester County include Upper Oxford Township, which supports farmland preservation through their comprehensive plan, and Honey Brook Township’s Land Preservation Plan, as well as Brandywine Conservancy's King Ranch property, and the Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County's Little Elk Creek Preserve.

View Chester County's preservation programs through Parks + Preservation's website under the "Agriculture" and "Open Lands" tabs.

CCPC's planning eTools are intended to be user-friendly, providing a quick overview of each topic, an explanation of how it works, and considerations for addressing the topic within a community. Topic categories include agriculture; community health; economic development; environment; historic preservation; housing; land use; open space; transportation; utilities, infrastructure & energy. The full list of eTools can be found in the Municipal Corner section of our website.