We have objected to plans by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for ‘biodiversity offsetting’, by which alternative sites and habitats are provided to replace those lost through development. The society responded to Defra’s consultation Biodiversity offsetting in England, green paper.
We believe that offsetting will lead to a net loss of open space from people’s localities and that the green space will be shifted somewhere else, further away and less convenient.
It’s impossible immediately to create a new natural habitat. Heaths, moors and woods can take decades to grow and become ecologically rich. It is facile to suggest that such sites can be replaced.
In any case, open space is particularly valuable when it’s close to people’s homes. The effect of these proposals is likely to be that the spaces are shifted away from the people.
We have called for various types of land to be outlawed as offsetting sites: registered common land, which is a unique and ancient land type, rich in wildlife and archaeology, where people have a right to roam; town and village greens which are used by local people for recreation, and public-access land where we all have the right to walk.
In addition, we have said there should be no offsetting in the national parks, which are afforded the highest protection because of their splendid natural beauty and enjoyment by the public.
The government suggests that sites of ‘low distinctiveness’ or ‘low quality’ should be exempt from the requirement for offsetting, so as to encourage development there. We oppose this blanket approach. These sites may be loved by local people. Even if there are no outstanding features, scruffy and unprepossessing land may serve an important function for communities, especially as children’s play areas.
The government introduced pilots to see how offsetting might work, but now it is forging ahead without having allowed time to monitor the effect of the pilots and gather evidence.
We fear that offsetting will be used as a pretext to allow unacceptable development, since this government seems to put development above everything. We hope it will think again about offsetting.