What is Biodiversity Offsetting?


Following the trail of Biodiversity Offsetting across the country, the Local Planning Authorities are now starting to implement this as part of the planning process. But what is it?

Biodiversity is relatively new in the UK but has been developed for several years in some other countries such as USA, Australia and recently France. Biodiversity offsetting is based on the concept that loss habitats should be compensated by re-creating new ones off site or by helping to restore deteriorating habitats.

In both cases, the amount of land that needs to be set aside to compensate for the residual impacts is generally larger than on the original site as there is a risk associated with the creation of new habitats.

Natural England’s Offsetting Matrix

Natural England has developed an offsetting matrix which can be used to estimate the type and amount of land required to offsets residual impacts on site. Offsetting schemes aim to create better quality habitats than those that are being lost. Please note that the following limitations apply to biodiversity offsetting projects:

  • Biodiversity offsetting should always be considered as the last resort following the mitigation hierarchy (1ststep: avoid impact, 2nd step: minimise impacts, 3rd step: mitigate impacts, 4th step: biodiversity offsetting or no net loss policy)
  • Some habitats cannot be recreated (i.e.: ancient woodland, coral reefs…) and as such their loss is so important that no offset could appropriately compensate for them.
  • Offsets should be additional to current practices or management;
  • Losses and gains should be quantified in a way that makes them comparable so positive gain can be clearly measured; and,
  • Offsets should be lasting forever.

Biodiversity offsetting should only be considered when avoiding, minimisation and mitigation is not enough to secure a no net loss of biodiversity and some residual impacts are still likely to happen. Biodiversity offsetting measures should be designed and implemented to achieve measurable conservation outcomes and achieve a net positive biodiversity impact.

REC is able to provide advice and calculate how many biodiversity units will be needed to mitigate the residual loss of biodiversity on your site. Please contact our ecological experts online or via your local office.