Government should scrap risky biodiversity offsetting plans
Commenting on the Government’s response, published today, to a critical report of its biodiversity offsetting policy by a committee of MPs last November, Friends of the Earth’s Nature Campaigner Sandra Bell said:
“Rather than merely delaying its plans for risky offsetting, the Government should listen to concerns about the lack of evidence and scrap them altogether.
“There’s no evidence that offsetting will help to reverse declining nature and wildlife in the UK – it’s been tried and found wanting in Australia and elsewhere.
"Instead, the Government must improve our planning system so that nature stops being treated as a moveable commodity, and ensure that creating new natural spaces goes hand-in-hand with new development.”
Notes to editors
- The report ‘Biodiversity Offsetting: Government Response to the Environment Audit Committee’ states that the Government will wait for the analysis of the offsetting pilots before making further decisions on how to proceed with offsetting, but it still expected to press ahead with its proposals to introduce biodiversity offsetting into the planning system this summer.
- In its response the Government makes it clear that it will not consider wider ecosystem benefits like flood prevention and the health benefits of access to green space in its offsetting scheme. Instead, it expects these to be assessed through the existing planning system. But Friends of the Earth is warning that these considerations are not given enough weight at present in the planning system and offsetting will introduce the risk that these spaces are regarded as tradeable assets.
- It’s been revealed that the Australian offsetting scheme cited by Owen Paterson as evidence in favour of the move was branded "disappointing" by a leading expert there. Pilot studies remain incomplete and evidence from other countries show similar experiments have failed.
- More evidence from experts in Australia that offsetting is failing in this ABC radio transcript
* Dr Philip Gibbons, biodiversity conservation researcher at the Australian National University, who has advised two Australian state governments and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, “I just do not think we are getting the improvement in biodiversity conservation that offsets promise” … “you can’t just knock over a patch of bush that is pristine and hope to recreate it elsewhere. They are just too complicated…” … “How do you replace a tree that’s 500 years old by planting another tree?”
* Professor Richard Hobbs, Ecologist: “To me it is akin to some guy going into that art gallery and pointing at the Mona Lisa on the wall and saying sorry mate we need that bit ... so the Mona Lisa has to go. But we will paint you another one.”
- In January, Owen Paterson told the Times that developers could be allowed to destroy ancient woodland if they agree to plant 100 trees for each one felled, adding that the offset could be as much as an hour’s drive away. Mr Paterson admitted that it would be impossible to re-create mature habitats in time for them to be enjoyed by present generations but said that the loss could be mitigated by a “huge offset”. (£)
- Friends of the Earth is calling for the Government to get on with delivering its commitments to protect and boost wildlife through better planning. That means focusing its efforts on solutions that could be introduced now and without the same risks.