Nearly all of our wildlife outside of protected areas is declining – all the evidence on this is very clear (* State of Nature Report 2013). In part, this is due to the failings of the current planning systems to adequately account for the impacts of development on nature conservation. We need a better accounting method that makes impact assessment quantitative. This is now achievable – by introducing the biodiversity metric into all planning decisions.
The metric does not always lead to biodiversity compensation (an ‘offset’). In fact the use of the metric often leads to further avoidance of habitat loss, and more and better mitigation of habitat loss. Biodiversity compensation only comes as a last resort – but where it is needed, then it should be delivered to the highest standards.
Note that Environment Bank, and now others, prefer the term ‘biodiversity compensation’ rather than ‘biodiversity offsetting’ because it gives a better representation of the objectives of the initiative. We believe that all residual impacts from development, once the mitigation hierarchy has been followed, should be compensated for to achieve no net loss (NNL) as a minimum. ‘Biodiversity accounting’ describes the use of the Government biodiversity metric to assess the losses and gains at developments and compensation sites to confirm that NNL has been met. We believe this policy approach should be adopted by ALL planning authorities via their local plans and supplementary planning guidance. Labelling the entire biodiversity accounting and compensation system collectively as simply ‘offsetting’ is misleading; it must be remembered that ‘offsetting’ (or compensation) is the last step in the mitigation hierarchy. Compensation of impacts to sites of high biodiversity value may not be appropriate – these impacts should first be avoided.
The biodiversity metric
The biodiversity metric was developed and produced by Natural England and Defra. It is a national, rigorous and consistent tool for calculating the environmental ‘impact’ of any development scheme and the environmental ‘gain’ of any habitat creation scheme. We use the biodiversity metric to determine the impact of development on wildlife habitats and, having first tried to avoid and mitigate any effects, we can, if necessary, secure funding to enable the re-creation and restoration of those habitats in alternative locations within the surrounding area.
Try out the metric for yourself