'Licence to trash' offsetting scheme set back until Autumn

Blue butterfly Government proposals would mean developers would have to pay compensation equal to any damage to habitats

There's slightly less of a whiff of BO down at the Department of the Environment these days.

Nothing to do with sweltering civil servants; this BO is the nose wrinkling acronym for biodiversity offsetting - a concept that has been criticised by some environmentalists as a licence to "trash" the countryside.

The government is very keen on the idea, the offsetting, that is, not the trashing.

But despite their interest, new proposals on offsetting have now been kicked into the autumnal long grass.

Start Quote

If we get it right it could benefit the economy and benefit wildlife”

End Quote Nik Shelton RSPB

The idea of biodiversity offsetting works like this : Developers who want to build houses in environmentally sensitive areas would be allowed to go ahead with their schemes if they could offset any damage by paying for conservation activities in other locations.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) believes the idea can help grow the economy and improve the environment at the same time.

Pilots on trial

Certainly, similar schemes have been up and running for many years in other parts of the world. In the US a wetland banking idea has been active since the 1970s. In New South Wales, Australia, a bio bank was set up a decade ago, allowing land owners to generate credits through the improvement of biodiversity and these credits can then be sold to developers who are likely to damage a site.

In England, six pilot areas were selected in 2012 for two year trials of a voluntary approach to offsetting through the planning system.

In April this year, a report from the Government's Ecosystems Markets Task Force recommended that the offsetting scheme should be rolled out nationwide as a matter of priority.

BO, it said, would "revolutionise conservation in England by delivering restoration, creation and long term management on in excess of 300,000 hectares of habitat over 20 years".

Secretary of State Owen Paterson said he would outline his proposals in a green paper that was due to be published for consultation this week.

But BO has now been offset to the back end of the year.

Defra says it needs to take the time to get the proposals right,

"Biodiversity offsetting could help improve our environment as well as boost the economy and it is important that we get the detail right," said a spokesman.

"We will continue to talk to interested groups and will launch a formal consultation in the Autumn."

However environmental organisations have a different view of what is going on.

"I guess there wasn't as much of a consensus around developing an approach as people might have thought was emerging," said Austin Brady, head of conservation at the Woodland Trust.

He says there are considerable problems with the idea - the suggestion that ancient woodlands could be included in any scheme is something he says is a non-starter. And he is concerned that by making offsetting a statutory part of the planning process, developers will use it to their advantage.

"The concern is with the 'licence to trash' concept is that if a developer comes along with a major project they may be tempted to just put some money on the table to pay for offsetting and not feel obliged to go through the preliminary steps of trying to avoid damage.

"That might feel like a quicker fix for them and that's a concern."

Other organisations object to the concept that one bit of nature can be used to replace another. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the complexity of our environment says Neil Sinden from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

"In practice, how could a developer replace a mile of ancient hedgerow with three times the length of new planting and say that is sufficient mitigation? Many habitats are simply irreplaceable and integral to the character of our landscape."

Supporters say that despite these difficulties, the overall concept is sound. They point to the fact that you could pool the money you might get from developers for relatively minor damage and use it to create a much larger conservation area.

"If we get it right it could benefit the economy and benefit wildlife," said Nik Shelton from RSPB.

"But the early proposals that we saw weren't going to achieve that. It sounds like they've listened."

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Matt McGrath Article written by Matt McGrath Matt McGrath Environment correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    We need to stop looking at farmland as countryside, and see it for what it really is, the boundaries and part of a city as large swathes of mans food cupboards..
    Then see how much countryside we actually do have left.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    'London councils head list of parking charge surpluses' gets 750+ comments on HYS.

    This tread has 166 - I guess that reveals what folks priorities are. :-(

    As Joni Mitchell put it;

    'Why does it always seem to go you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone?
    They paved paradise and put up a parking lot'

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    This seems like a really convinient way to ignore a problem, cool.

  • Comment number 165.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 164.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    @130. Hello 'landscape'. Beware the little green angel sitting on your right shoulder who says 'build on the brownfields'. In fact, some brownfields, especially along the Thames, are now home to some of our rarest plants and insects. Please do not fall into the 'Green is good, brown is bad' trap. It is far more complex than that. Suggest you consult the Buglife website for info.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    So my mate who retired to Uruaguay and plants trees on his spread is offsetting the damage to my local environment just how? Yes it's a nice little earner for him, and more trees are always a good thing, but it doesn't do anything for my local flora and fauna that's getting made homeless!

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    This aptly named BO plan stinks! It's a central planners' concoction, and like all central planning before it, it'll fail in its objectives.

    If as much land as possible were privatised, and property rights properly protected, big polluters would be held accountable in a court of law. So; If a factory leaks chemicals onto your land or water, you can sue them for the very high costs of restoration.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    "151.Athame57 - "Theres too many people!.........."
    NO THERE ISN'T - which is why you have NOT ONE JOT of EVIDENCE to support such risible claims..."
    Many thanks for posting the link.
    I particularly like his reference to rich old white guys telling the poor not to have kids.
    The UN has the numbers but no-one's interested.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    At least the NE can relax a little it turns out that Dumbo Howell actually meant to say NW is his derogatory statement.
    And we trust these types people to look out for environment ?

    No wonder they have gone all coy on the BO proposal to destroy our countryside

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    monsanto, gmo, geo engineering/chemtrails, bee deaths, government are responsible for all of these crimes against humanity, but most people neither know, care, or even believe these things are going on, mainstream media never report real and world changing issues that will destroy the world as we know it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    139. nicktecky
    So ALL landowners in favour?
    ALL utilities?
    ALL manufacturers?
    Not the Duke of Northumberland, obviously
    Any utility supplier with an interest in selling electricity, potentially
    Yep - anyone making turbines or components has a vested interest
    Scottish Greens have a grand total of 2 MSP - I'd suggest you are overrating their influence

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    I am not surprised the government is in favour: any biodiversity costs will be passed on to house purchasers and we know how governments in this country love anything that puts up the price of houses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    Dress it up any way you want it's not a scheme to designed to protect environment it's a scheme to line pockets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    BO reminds me of members of the public who say 'But it doesn't matter if we wreck site A/B/C because surely the birds can just go elsewhere' except this time it is conservation professionals themselves (and I number among them) who are supporting this daft idea. And the RSPB does itself and us no favours at all by talking about economics and wildlife in the same sentence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    151.Athame57 - "Theres too many people!.........."

    NO THERE ISN'T - which is why you have NOT ONE JOT of EVIDENCE to support such risible claims......there is only too much greed (over consumption) and waste......


  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    Bio-Div Offset is absurd.Who decides what important enironmental sites can be ruined in order to put money into other environ-important areas?
    It's a bit like saying"we''ll allow development at Stonehenge as long as we use the profits to be put into preserving The White Cliffs of Dover"!! Let's build bungalows on The Great Wall of China and send the money to the Pyramids--it's as stupid as that !

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    Theres too many people! Some wildlife will survive only because it's lerned to live down town, I photographed a Peregrine Falcon here in Shadwell, east London recently, but it's no excuse to trash the countryside!

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    SSSI 'Site of Special Scientific Interest'


    'Site Suitable for Significant Investment'?

    Our economic system requires that every day there be more money - we are essentially turning the natural world into a pile of money.

    We can't eat drink or breath money.

    Our lives depend on the soil the air and the water.

    Money is a human invention - a belief system - no more no less.

    BO - no thank you!

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    >>>>39. JohnSmith
    "The fundamental problem is, again, there there is not enough homes."

    No. There are too many greedy second homes, pseudo-mansions & empty properties. We need simple eco-houses & allotments. Kids need open air & wildlife. Britain is not Britain without woodland, landscapes, wildlife. Do you want to live in a bleak caravan park or build a vast city from Swindon to Corby?


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