Green groups have warned that plans by the government to destroy natural sites and compensate for the biodiversity loss elsewhere could easily fail and cause irreversible damage to wildlife.
Biodiversity offsetting is often used by authorities to account for damage done to nature by certain planning developments. Habitats are restored by planting trees somewhere else, for example.
However, campaigners from a number of leading conservation groups have warned that the practice is controversial because habitats lost could take years to regenerate and are in some cases unique.
Their warning comes amid a major conference on offsetting in London, where environment secretary Owen Paterson will be discussing the government’s plans with developers and environmental groups. Paterson has been criticised in the past for his proposals.
Friends of the Earth nature campaigner Sandra Bell said, “Developers are already gearing up to use biodiversity offsetting to bulldoze some of our most precious wildlife sites.
“There is no clear evidence that biodiversity offsetting works – attempts abroad have frequently ended in failure.
“Owen Paterson should stop gambling with our green and pleasant land, abandon his ill-conceived offsetting plans and give UK nature the protection it so sorely needs.”
Campaigners used the example of one site near Sheffield, where plans for a motorway service station is threatening a local woodland. Despite the developer proposing to plant new trees and improve management of another section of woodland, campaigners believe it could take up to 850 years to regrow the same forest.
Hannah Mowat, biodiversity offsetting campaigner at forest charity FERN, added, “Offsetting is already weakening the UK’s planning laws and exposing nature to new threats.
“The EU – which is considering similar legislation – should watch closely before going further. Together we can prevent offsetting from creating chaos and upsetting nature laws across Europe.”
Photo: Nathan O’Nions via Flickr