ARCHIVE: What are the principles guiding this work?
We have drafted some principles to guide a wider, more consistent approach to offsetting in England. We would welcome further thoughts on these.
- Be as simple and straightforward as possible, for developers and local authorities
- Be transparent: it should be clear how the offset calculations are derived and people should be able to see how offset money is being spent
- Be good value for money
- Build on existing levels of protection for biodiversity
- Deliver real benefits for biodiversity– offsets should expand and restore the existing ecological network, and not merely protect what is already there
- Be additional – not deliver something that would have happened anyway
- Be managed at the local level as far as possible:
- within the national strategic framework for managing England’s biodiversity
- within a framework that provides a level of consistency for developers
- through partnerships at a level that makes sense spatially, such as county level, or in a specific catchment area
- with the right level of national support and guidance to build capacity where it’s needed
- involving local communities
- Deliver long-term outcomes
In Sir John Lawton’s review of England’s wildlife sites and ecological network, he sets out some principles for offsetting. We’d also welcome thoughts on these. If you have already submitted views on offsetting in response to Sir John’s report, as part of the consultation on the Natural Environment White Paper Discussion Document, there is no need to resubmit them.
Lawton offsetting principles
(i)Biodiversity offsetting must not become a ‘licence to destroy’ or damage existing habitat of recognised value. In other words, offsets must only be used to compensate for genuinely unavoidable damage. Development should avoid adverse impacts first, mitigate impacts second and compensate for unavoidable impacts as a last resort.
(ii) Where developers propose to create replacement habitat there needs to be some certainty that the habitat type can be (re-)created. Applying the precautionary principle, and recognising that some habitat creation schemes may be less successful than initially planned, each individual offset scheme should aim to achieve a net gain for biodiversity.
(iii) Benefits should be secured in the long term with supporting mechanisms in place to deliver long term management (often more than 25 years).
(iv) There must be recognition that some habitats cannot be re-created (e.g. ancient woodland) while others can take decades to develop their wildlife interest.
(v) ‘Receptor areas’ for creating habitat must not be places of existing high wildlife value.
(vi) Suitable multiplier ratios need to be applied to compensation in recognition that the new site may be of a different value to the network than the original one, and to take account of factors such as distance from the site of the damage, the time needed for habitat creation, the types of habitat being lost and accessibility for people. Usually, these multipliers will be greater than one, but they need not always be.
(vii) Wherever possible, the created habitat should be in place before the original site is lost.
(viii) Offsets should be used to compensate both for the loss of current wildlife sites and for damage to other wildlife network components, for example areas identified as important for ecological restoration or connectivity but not yet managed as such.
(ix) Opportunities should be taken to pool habitat compensation from different developments so that larger habitat blocks can be created. There should be community agreement on what is to be achieved (and what contributions are expected) through local plans, so developers are clear at the outset what scale of contribution is expected from them.
We conclude that in the context of establishing and maintaining ecological networks:
a) There are risks that biodiversity offsetting could undermine ecological networks if they lead to any reduction in the levels of protection afforded to wildlife sites and habitats. It may be possible to mitigate these risks by ensuring that a system of biodiversity offsets is underpinned by a clear set of principles, as proposed above.
b) A well-managed scheme can bring benefits to the ecological network by effectively pooling a number of offsets required for separate small developments into a larger and more beneficial habitat block. This can be done without imposing additional burdens on developers.
c) The operation of a system of biodiversity offsets could deliver net gains for wildlife by providing an opportunity for developers (or other interested organisations) to buy additional conservation credits as part of their social responsibility commitments. The financial value of the credits could also reflect the value of other ecosystem services such as carbon storage
d) A responsible authority needs to be identified to oversee the administration of biodiversity offset schemes and verify effective offset delivery.
e) We need to further develop the evidence base in a number of important areas including:
- refining creation and restoration techniques for certain habitats;
- establishing the appropriate multipliers needed to ensure full compensation, and developing rules for offsetting ‘out of kind’ (where damage to one type of habitat is compensated for by providing another);
- verifying the market mechanisms through which biodiversity offsets can operate effectively in an English context.
We suggest that the evidence base is developed, and the overarching principles tested, through pilot schemes in willing local authority areas.
Page last modified: 29 November 2010
Page published: 23 October 2008