The destruction of ancient woodland is non-negotiable, Mr Paterson

The Environment Secretary's proposals for 'biodiversity offsets' raise serious issues

Share
Related Topics

The Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has put forward proposals for "biodiversity offsets". This is a policy that will require developers to compensate for damage caused to wildlife habitats in one place by creating or restoring new ones somewhere else.

In an interview with The Times Mr Paterson suggested that ancient woodlands could be destroyed to make way for housing, so long as developers planted 100 new trees for each one felled. At first glance that seems a persuasive ratio but, on closer inspection, the proposal raises serious issues.

For a start, many of the little fragments of habitat that remain in the UK are, by definition, irreplaceable – ancient woodlands, for example. New plantings will not restore what has been lost, at least not for centuries. Others in this "no go" category, I'd say, include raised bogs, limestone pavements, certain kinds of heathland, ancient fen and old chalk grasslands.

While many remaining examples of notable habitats are protected in theory, development pressures are huge and mounting. The Woodland Trust is campaigning to protect the 33 ancient woodlands that would be affected by the HS2 rail project alone. The Wildlife Trusts are attempting to protect habitats from developments such as the proposed M4 extension across the Gwent levels, while the RSPB is embroiled in campaigns to conserve wildlife areas from housing development in Kent.This is why offsetting is such a hot topic, and why it is so vital to get it right. So what should Owen Paterson do?

It is important to place offsetting in its correct context. It requires a clear statement to the effect that rare, protected and other officially designated habitats should be sacrosanct. No development should be permitted in these last remnants of our native nature. In places with regional or local wildlife value, developers should be required to show that they have exhausted all other options before making an application.

If the case is made that development in lower-value green space is the only solution, then a nature enhancement and mitigation plan for the development site would be set out. At this point an offset that is subject to regulatory oversight should be compulsorily required, explicitly designed to achieve a "net conservation gain" and determined in consultation with conservation groups. Developers would pay for it.

Our Government's obsession with growth at any cost cannot be permitted to destroy nature's final surviving crown jewels. Ministers are working in Brussels to weaken EU conservation laws; at home, they have slashed the budgets of official conservation bodies and are now looking for ways to smooth the path for development, even in special areas.

Offsetting can be a way of channelling resources for conservation, but only if it is done right. We have not yet reached that point.

Tony Juniper's most recent book is 'What has Nature Ever Done for Us?'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Syrian refugee 'Nora' with her two month-old daughter. She was one of the first Syrians to come to the UK when the Government agreed to resettle 100 people from the country  

Open letter to David Cameron on Syrian refugees: 'Several hundred people' isn't good enough

Independent Voices
Amjad Bashir said Ukip had become a 'party of ruthless self-interest'  

Could Ukip turncoat Amjad Bashir be the Churchill of his day?

Matthew Norman
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project