Former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson’s controversial plans to allow the destruction of ancient woodland if new trees are planted elsewhere appear to have been quietly set aside.
Mr Paterson championed “biodiversity offsetting” right up until the time he left his position last July, arguing that it would enable much-needed developments to be built at the same time as “delivering a better environment over the longer term”.
The scheme stipulated that when a development causes unavoidable damage to biodiversity, “new, bigger or better nature sites will be created”.
Although many of the sites being offset may be of relatively little environmental importance, Mr Paterson caused an outcry when he admitted that the criteria were so broad it could be applied to 400-year old woodland. Campaigners argued that it was impossible to make up for the loss of woodland ecosystems built up over centuries by planting new trees on virgin sites.
Signs that the drive towards biodiversity offsetting may be decelerating first emerged last March, when the government said it would wait until six two-year pilots, completed that month, had been assessed. Nearly a year later, nothing seems to have progressed.
Asked whether biodiversity offsetting was still on the agenda, or had been quietly dropped, a Defra spokesman said: “The government is still reflecting on the pilots and consultation. The report is still be reviewed and no date has been set yet for publishing that report.” Mr Paterson’s replacement at Defra was Liz Truss.
Joan Walley, Labour MP and chair of the government’s cross party Environmental Audit Committee, said she had noticed a definite change of pace over the months from “full-steam ahead” to something far more leisurely.
Her committee published a report in November 2013 on biodiversity offsetting raising concerns that the proposals posed a threat to long-established ecosystems.
She told The Independent: “Despite the tight timescale, all now seems to have gone quiet and I wonder whether the idea was simply a pet scheme of the former secretary of state.”
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