A “priority recommendation” from the Government’s Ecosystems Markets Task Force is for a new “biodiversity offset system” to let large developers would be given a right to build on one nature reserve or protected area, if they build one somewhere else.
The taskforce’s Government report said this was not “a license to trash nature” – although campaigners have warned that that is exactly what it is.
It said: “We need a system in which unavoidable net impacts on biodiversity of new development are more than compensated by restored and created habitats elsewhere through an efficient market.”
It is about better regulation, developing a well-defined market which delivers ‘net gain’ for nature which the current planning system has generally failed to do.”
In April 2012, six two year pilot projects were launched in Devon, Doncaster, Essex, Norwich, Nottinghamshire, and Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull.
The review said that it would “revolutionise conservation in England by delivering restoration, creation and long-term management of in excess of 300,000 hectares of habitat over 20 years” and “incentivise location of development at sites of lower nature value”.
Environment secretary Owen Paterson suggested that he would decide on whether to expand the scheme when the trials’ results come back next year.
He said: “We shouldn’t to choose between either improving the environment or growing the economy. We should aim to have both which is why I’m keen to see the results of these trials.”
But Neil Sinden, from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said offsetting failed “to recognise the complex way in which wildlife systems are sustained and thrive”.
He told The Daily Telegraph: “You can’t wipe out wildlife habitats and expect to be able to create on that can achieve the richness and diversity of wildlife sites that have evolved over decades and centuries.
“There is a big danger that it will be abused by developers to justify entirely unacceptable developments and will damage the rich, diverse and most valuable wildlife sites.”
We have been sceptical about the idea of biodiversity offsetting before because some habitats take many years to develop and appropriate discount rates on the ecosystem services value of babitats have not always been applied. To be fair to Defra the latest guidance – 9th April – they have begun to address this point, through the use of a ‘multiplier’ efectively a discount rate adjusted for the risk of non-habitat devlivery (see para 33. of the habitat provider guidance), and a discount rate of 3.5%.