ARCHIVE: Why is biodiversity offsetting being considered?
Despite some successes, our biodiversity is still in decline, and we need to look for new ways to tackle this. The reasons for biodiversity loss are varied, but significant issues include diffuse air and water pollution and changes to agricultural practices, as well as changes in land use caused by development. Further information about the challenges facing our biodiversity and Defra’s approach to tackling biodiversity loss can be found on our main biodiversity pages.
Development, such as new houses, power stations and transport infrastructure, is needed so communities can grow and expand in a way which suits them, and to provide jobs and essential services. However, it can also damage biodiversity. We should continue to avoid building on areas of high wildlife value, wherever possible. But some development must take place, and developing land often means losing the biodiversity found there. Whilst good developments can do a lot to help incorporate biodiversity considerations in their design, there will still be some loss.
The planning system is already designed to direct development towards the least sensitive areas and encourage developers to avoid significant harm to biodiversity, and to deliver compensation for some of the impacts it causes, for example, if certain species and habitats covered by European legislation are present on the development site, or for areas designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest. So some offsetting already happens, and we are not looking at changing the arrangements to deal with sites protected under EU and international legislation. However, it might be possible to do more; for example, where there is significant residual damage to biodiversity after development on a site not protected by law.
If offsetting was used more frequently, and more consistently, to manage the impacts of development on biodiversity there may be opportunities to:
- make the process of managing the impacts of development on biodiversity simpler for both local authorities and developers
- encourage the pooling of resources to create bigger, higher quality areas for wildlife, which could be more efficient, delivering better outcomes for biodiversity. This might be particularly effective in relation to the cumulative impact of losing small sites.
- encourage the development of a network of offset providers. This could create a market in conservation projects, which would help to keep costs of offsetting as low as possible, while improving the quality of offsetting projects.
- better reflect the importance of biodiversity, and the costs to all of us of losing it, in decision making.
Q: Do you agree with the four potential benefits identified above? Are there other potential benefits from more consistent, and greater use, of offsetting? Are there any potential downsides to offsetting?
Q: Are there better ways of achieving government’s goals for minimising the impacts of development on biodiversity than the approach suggested here?
Our work has focused on how thinking about how we could use offsetting to assess and compensate for biodiversity loss from development. Any biodiversity offsets created are also likely to provide other benefits to the local area, for example, green space, recreation, water quality and landscape. Local strategies for targeting where offsets are located could play an important role in delivering these other benefits.
Q: How can we recognise the range of potential benefits from restoring habitats, without over complicating offsetting? Local strategies for locating offsets in the right area to deliver local priorities (such as protection for watercourses) could be one way of achieving this link with other priorities, but are there others?
Page last modified: 29 November 2010
Page published: 23 October 2008