Offsetting: the silver bullet for nature’s recovery?

Thursday 5th September 2013

The Wildlife Trusts welcome the Green Paper on Biodiversity Offsetting but have real concerns that the Government risks the wrecking of irreplaceable areas for wildlife and communities, if biodiversity offsetting is done in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons.

As a consultation on biodiversity offsetting is launched today, The Wildlife Trusts warn that any such scheme should only be used as a last resort and, if introduced, should be part of a wider vision and framework for re-building our natural capital.

Offsetting – an approach to compensating for damage to nature - should only be used after avoiding damage to the natural environment then reducing the impact of development through sympathetic design.  For example, by incorporating features including sustainable drainage schemes, wildlife-rich green space and green roofs which help reduce flooding, improve water quality and provide wildlife habitat.

Only when all realistic opportunities to avoid and mitigate ecological harm have been exhausted, should offsetting be used to create new habitat close to the development, to compensate unavoidable losses.

It is not likely to be a silver bullet but, if introduced in the right way for the right reasons it could play a part in addressing some of the failings in the current planning system

The Wildlife Trusts welcomed and engaged in the Government’s six pilot schemes but warned at the time that off-setting must not be at the expense of the natural environment.  The lessons from these pilot schemes must be considered alongside the findings of this new consultation before the approach is introduced more broadly.

Paul Wilkinson, The Wildlife Trusts’ Head of Living Landscape, said:

Wildlife is under huge pressure and what we need from Government is a coherent vision and framework for achieving a step change in nature’s recovery.  Biodiversity offsetting is not likely to be a silver bullet but, if introduced in the right way for the right reasons it could play a part in addressing some of the failings in the current planning system, where nature is often undervalued.

"However, if done in the wrong way, for the wrong reasons, it could seriously undermine nature’s recovery through the loss of important wildlife rich places across the country - the devil will be in the detail.

The Wildlife Trusts welcome the opportunity to provide evidence and expertise in the consultation.

Biodiversity Offsetting
The Wildlife Trusts work closely with developers and planners throughout the UK every day to ensure that development and wildlife can coexist.  Last year we examined more than 50,000 planning applications to assess their impact on wildlife and advise on improvements.

While the idea of biodiversity off-setting is becoming more widely recognised, its use in the UK to compensate for developmental damage on the natural environment is a relatively new concept.  There are many issues to consider to ensure it works effectively and delivers high quality restoration of the natural environment. Biodiversity offsetting should be the final of three steps in the decision-making process for planning and development:

• Avoid damage:  The destruction of habitats is not permissible or tolerable
• Mitigate:  Reduce damage by incorporating designs which are sympathetic to the natural environment, such as sustainable drainage schemes and green roofs,  and minimise land-take
• Offset:  Compensate for damage which genuinely cannot be mitigated or avoided by offsetting by creating areas with more habitat than is lost.

Tagged with: Living Landscapes