As we have always said in this blog the idea of offsetting pnly applying to residual losses after applying the avoidance principle was likely to be broken in practice. There is no problem with the very occiasional use of offsetting to apply to Ancient Woodland where there is no alternative location and teh project is in teh antional interest. The loss of part of a wood for HS2 is a good example, the problem is how far patterson want’s to straeach the principle to be the norm rather than the exception.
Mr Paterson told The Times the policy could be applied to woods dating back more than 400 years – around a third of all woodland in England.
While destroying mature trees was a ‘tragic loss’, replacing each with 100 new ones would ‘deliver a better environment over the long term’, he said.Defra said any move to build on ancient woodland would be restricted to major projects and would only get planning permission in exceptional cases….
a report by the Commons Environmental Audit Committee which also raised serious concerns.
It said the proposed system was too simplistic to take into account the full value of the lost sites and a full assessment of pilot projects was required.
While speeding up development was welcome, there was a risk developers were given ‘carte blanche’ to concrete over valuable habitats, it concluded.
The report specifically highlighted fears ancient woodland and Sites of Special Scientific Interest would not be adequately protected.
Friends of the Earth nature campaigner Paul de Zylva said including ancient woodlands ‘highlights the absurdity’ of the policy.
‘It’s the quality of forests that’s important, not just the quantity of trees.
‘Ministers should be protecting nature, instead of gambling with it by allowing Britain’s best wildlife sites to be shifted around the country.
‘The Government’s mad cap biodiversity offsetting plans should get the chop – not our forests.’
The Woodland Trust said more than 380 ancient woods were already under threat from projects including the HS2 high-speed rail line.
Offsetting should only be used as a ‘last resort’, policy director Hilary Allison told The Times – criticising Mr Paterson’s suggestion that an hour’s journey by car would be close enough to do compensatory work.