Throughout the UK, wildlife loses out to new development. The recent ‘State of Nature’ report indicated that 60% of all species are in decline and this can partly be attributed to the loss of semi natural habitats to make way for new development.
What is biodiversity offsetting?
Biodiversity offsetting could be a way to compensate the unavoidable damage caused to wildlife from building a new development. In the simplest terms this could mean creating new areas of habitat to replace areas lost to development and be one option to start addressing the continual declines in our wildlife.
The Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) believes that biodiversity offsetting will be a cheaper and quicker option to reduce development impacts on wildlife and compensate habitat loss, as well as having a better outcome for wildlife than current practice does. A Green Paper on introducing offsetting in England has been published and a consultation is being held.
What do we think about it?
Buglife is considerably more cautious but considers that biodiversity offsetting could contribute to a more joined up approach to nature conservation. It could help to create better ecological networks and help tackle habitat losses due to development. To avoid being a ‘green card’ for development it must always be a last resort.
Whilst in principle this seems a valid way to help address losses to wildlife, in practice it is highly complicated. There are many questions that need to be answered before any scheme could successfully be introduced. One issue of major concern is whether or not it is possible to provide offsets for individual species, and in particular invertebrates.
How will affect invertebrates?
Many invertebrates require specific and particular habitat conditions and features – often at a very fine scale. Any large offsetting project may not translate these specific habitat needs making it hard for the new area of habitat site to replace what has been lost.
In turn specific habitat conditions can be influenced by factors such as a site’s aspect, location or soil biology, all of which can be difficult to identify and recreate. This makes location of the offset site crucial to its success.
There are some species that we just don’t know that much about. Making sure we have addressed their needs when creating new habitat can be very challenging – how do we know we have created something suitable if we don’t know what they needs for a full life cycle?
To complicate matters further we might not even know what bugs are on a development site as rare and endangered species can easily be overlooked. We often find that invertebrate surveys are not carried out before planning permission is granted or survey guidelines are not followed. How do we know the same will not happen in any offset scheme?
Clearly the situation is complex but we are feeding our concerns and ideas into Defra to help assess the viability of any offsetting scheme.