Saturday, September 07, 2013

All most offsetting – land developers and nature conservation

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson posted a cheery piece on biodiversity offsetting on the BusinessGreen website this week[1].  It’s a masterclass in positive propaganda - teachers, get your students to highlight all the whoopee phrases.

Essentially, if some developer can’t unleash his yellow bulldozers because Gussie Fink-Nottle has identified a rare newt on the site, then shift the dem’ thing. “Biodiversity offsetting can ensure that they recreate the same or even a better environmental site somewhere else.”
There’s a tiny tinkle of worry about that “can”. A more balanced and informative briefing is on the Parliamentary website[2], which recognizes that “badly planned offsets could result in a loss of biodiversity by allowing inappropriate development to proceed, or by compensating inadequately” and makes reference to the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme, whose Advisory Group includes a number of respected conservation organisations[3].  Friends of the Earth are against, the Woodland Trust is wary, as Thursday’s Guardian’s “licence to trash nature” piece shows[4].

Paterson says the Environment Bank supports the scheme. It would, as becomes clear when you look at their site[5]: “The Environment Bank Ltd (EBL) is the leading trader in the UK in environmental assets (natural capital stocks), enabling and brokering deals between buyers (developers, corporate, investors) and sellers (landowners, farmers, conservation bodies, land management companies), thereby facilitating new markets to substantially increase investment in the natural environment.” Ultimately, the EU’s behind it, as the passage goes on to say: “At EU level, the European Commission is currently developing policy for a ‘no net loss initiative’ scheduled for 2015.”
The Environment Secretary paints a rosy picture of compensation with (possibly) bigger or better alternative land. “Bigger” is easy to understand, but it’s not obvious what “better” will mean in every case – microclimates and local ecosystems are very subtle; even “similar” could be a challenge.

DEFRA is consulting us until 7 November[6]. Naturally, to hear is not the same as to obey, but silence betokeneth consent, as Sir Thomas More reminded the court.


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