“Nature is unique and complex – not something that can be bulldozed in one place and recreated in another at the whim of a developer.
From the Guardian : Developers will be allowed to destroy wildlife and woodlands if they create new habitats elsewhere, under government plans published by the environment secretary, Owen Paterson.
Ministers hope the proposals, called biodiversity offsetting, will make it easier for new housing and commercial schemes to go ahead, boosting the economy. But environment groups dubbed the plans a “licence to trash nature”.
“Offsetting is an exciting opportunity to look at how we can improve the environment as well as grow the economy,” said Paterson, launching consultation on the plans. “There is no reason why wildlife and development can’t flourish side-by-side.”
Ministers have been frustrated that some major schemes have been obstructed by wildlife concerns, such as the 85 nightingales blocking a £1bn housing development in Kent.
But Sandra Bell, nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth (FoE), said: “Nature is unique and complex – not something that can be bulldozed in one place and recreated in another at the whim of a developer. Instead of putting nature up for sale the government should strengthen its protection through the planning system and set out bold plans to safeguard and restore wildlife across the UK.”
The Woodland Trust chief executive, Sue Holden, said: “It is critical that any habitats created to compensate for loss are placed within the local area that suffered the original impact. Unfortunately, this still appears open to debate [in the proposals].”
Tom Tew, chief executive of the Environment Bank which is the company acting as the independent broker between planners and developers, told the Guardian: “I think FoE and others completely misunderstand how biodiversity offsetting works. It is not a licence to trash, it is the complete opposite. When you put a value on biodiversity, you are putting a financial incentive for developers not to trash it.”
A major recent assessment of Britain’s natural world showed that wildlife has declined steeply in the last 50 years. It found 97% of flower-rich lowland meadows, which support birds, bees and butterflies, had been destroyed since the 1930s.
Tew, a former chief scientist at Natural England, said the current planning system is not working for nature. He said most biodiversity offsets would be compensating for degraded grassland developed for housing by restoring meadows elsewhere. Tew added that local planners were likely to insist on offsets “being just down the road”. He said: “If done well, it could be one of the most beneficial schemes for wildlife in the last 30 years.”
The government is running six biodiversity offsetting pilots but has yet to report any results. A spokeswoman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said a trial in Warwickshire was closest to the government’s new proposals, but Tew said the slowness of the planning system meant that trial had yet to deliver any offsets.
Mike Clarke, chief executive of the RSPB, said: “Offsetting can be a useful tool for compensating harm to wildlife when all other options have been exhausted. But it is very difficult to get it right, and it is much safer to maintain wildlife habitats where they are. There is a real danger that offsetting could simply amount to a licence to trash.”
NAEE_UK agrees that “Nature is unique and complex – not something that can be bulldozed in one place and recreated in another at the whim of a developer.