On Biodiversity Offsetting & Soil

Asides from the fact that anything the current Defra minister says about the environment should be treated with extreme caution, an easy fix to the ongoing polarisation between conservationists and developers should be dismissed for the dangers it bestows on the rest of us – the practitioners and the public. You know – the social element of the triple bottom line for sustainable development.

Biodiversity Offsetting is absurd. The ecological pyramid we all learnt at school displays this nonsense well; look at the bottom layer – how can you offset what we don’t know about? I speak as one who works with soil, one who almost daily is intrigued by interactions and the potential existence of new species found in one of the most easily accessible yet unexplored habitats in the world.  

I would argue that true sustainable development is much more advanced than many policy makers believe or have been led to believe and in terms of soil management, particularly in the urban and peri urban landscape, it was advanced enough to enable development with green space in the most contaminated sites in England. Soils had been pigeonholed, quite wrongly, solely in ‘Agriculture’ and the agro lobbyists campaigning hard against a soil directive and indeed any other measures to tackle the massive threats to soil had inadvertently halted potential funding for increased and much necessary research.    

Biodiversity offsetting diverts the eyes yet further from progress in sustainable development towards the ongoing fight between conservation and development, a fight umpired by Planning. Planning in turn is attacked by those advocating Biodiversity Offsetting. Is this all simply to make green fields available to the development industry, an industry which contains many who had started to embrace sustainable development and would be able to measure its success through values by way of ecosystem services.

As BO (surely one of the worst acronyms to come out of environmental policy making) begins, after a couple of years, to finally get the attention it doesn’t deserve, it is apparent that few actually understand what it really will entail. This does not matter because all the proposals on offer are uniformly nonsense – asides one; the local one, an environmental type of planning gain within the immediate vicinity of necessary development where a local community can get involved in the design and implementation of a habitat for wildlife on their doorstep, next door to the new supermarket. Unfortunately the existence of biodiversity banks, murmurs of trading and bypassing of usual planning routes suggests this is far from what is contained within the policy makers’ briefcases.

The deafening silence surrounding BO betrays the fact that those involved know it is highly controversial. It is good to see the NGOs finally starting to become seriously concerned and thus the forthcoming green or white paper will be scrutinised properly.

Eminent landscape professionals have been voicing their concerns, with quotes ranging from describing BO as ‘weak sustainability’ to ‘in the words of Edmund Blackadder: ‘the only slight problem with this plan is that it’s bollocks’. Certainly BO is going to prove highly unpopular with landscapists and as little consideration has been given to either the Aarhus convention or European Landscape Convention some clashes are ascertained if BO allows for a bypassing of traditional planning routes, which seems a certainty in order make it as attractive as possible to developers.

Put all the above criticism of BO aside and the many, many other flaws aside and simply consider this:

We are supposed to place our trust in bankers with regards the biodiversity in our landscape?

That’s a hard sell indeed.


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