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Biodiversity Offsetting - a pilot scheme from DEFRA

02 October 2012

DEFRA is testing a scheme for biodiversity offsets: conservation activities designed to deliver biodiversity benefits in compensation for losses, in a measurable way. They believe that biodiversity offsetting has the potential to deliver planning policy requirements for compensation for biodiversity loss in a more effective way. The scheme is currently being tested by authorities in six pilot areas: Devon; Doncaster; Essex; Greater Norwich; Nottinghamshire; and Coventry, Warwickshire and Solihull.

Biodiversity offsetting is not designed to replace planning processes but as an additional tool to help developers meet their ecological obligations. It is introduced at the bottom of the hierarchy of acceptable responses to potential harm to ecology as a result of development: the biodiversity offsetting scheme gives developers the option, where they cannot avoid or fully mitigate for impacts on site, the option of compensating with improvements to biodiversity at another location.

Developers may deliver the biodiversity offset themselves or commission a provider to do so, bearing in mind that the biodiversity compensation must be effectively maintained in perpetuity or at least for the lifetime of the impact of the development in question.

The biodiversity loss being compensated for and the compensation being made are both measured in units which are the numeric product of the size of the area in question, a grade describing the distinctiveness of the habitats and a grade for the change in condition achieved. These units do not have a fixed price; prices for each compensation scheme will be determined by the costs of habitat improvement or creation works and their long-term protection and maintenance. The scheme is further complicated by adjustments to allow for risks in the successful delivery of the total biodiversity benefit; any time lags between habitat destruction on one site and creation at another; requirements to replace like for like, for example in the case of hedgerows; and local guidance and requirements, for example acceptable locations and habitat types.

Undoubtedly, to participate in such a scheme developers and offset providers will be dependent on sound ecological assessment of the two sites in question and expert ecological advice on how to proceed to achieve biodiversity gains that are cost-effective and viable in the long-term.

ECOSA is well-placed to work with developers, offset providers and local authorities on the assessment of potential offset sites and the drafting of Biodiversity Offset Management Plans (BOMP). DEFRA's guidance on the scheme can be found at If you are considering taking part in one of the pilots and would like to discuss how we could help, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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