1st November 2013

The government has launched a consultation on introducing a 'biodiversity offsetting' scheme in England. Under the proposed biodiversity offsetting scheme when a development causes 'unavoidable' damage to nature new nature sites will be created elsewhere.

Some of the government's key proposals include:

  • Biodiversity offsetting becoming part of the planning system.
  • In deciding when to apply offsetting, developers choose whether to use biodiversity offsetting to assess a development's impact and how to compensate for it - an option favoured by the Government.
  • Planning permission would be subject to a developer securing a biodiversity offset equal to biodiversity units lost as a result of development.
  • The offsetting system in England would be underpinned by a standard metric based on habitats.
  • Offsets could be provided anywhere in England.
  • To apply biodiversity offsetting to protected species as part of wider biodiversity offsetting whilst maintaining the mitigation hierarchy.

Most development is assumed to be permanent so any losses in biodiversity will also be permanent. This means that biodiversity offsetting must be secured for the long-term. The government has proposed doing this through conservation covenants attached to a property's deeds, management agreements concerning the biodiversity offsetting site, recording biodiversity offsetting sites on a register, and potentially introducing mechanisms to secure offsets against biodiversity offsetting provider failure.

BCT will be responding to this consultation in full. Our key recommendations will be:

  • Any system introduced should not undermine the clear mitigation hierarchy of avoid, minimise, and as a last resort compensate.
  • The offsetting scheme should be applied to priority species not just habitats and work at a geographic scale that delivers for impacted populations.
  • All of the current pilots must be complete and evaluated prior to the formalisation of any systems.
  • Offsetting measures should be designed to meet specific ecological needs and deliver measures that specifically address the negative impacts that are predicted within the range for the affected populations.
  • Local planning authorities must have access to expert ecologists to help them make informed decisions, either in-house or via service level agreements with neighbouring authorities.
  • Any covenants introduced should ensure that compensatory sites created through offsetting are managed in perpetuity.
  • The equilibrium of habitats and their associated species and ecosystem services needs to remain in balance and not become biased towards certain habitat types without very strong supporting evidence. A species led approach would go a long way to safeguard against this.
  • A commitment will be needed to support biodiversity and ecosystem research so that the scheme can remain effective.

The closing date for this consultation is the 7th November 2013 - see Defra for the the full consultation.