It was no jolly, it was heartbreaking. Many stories from across Europe and further, including the UK, were unbelievable – yet unfortunately true. From the ignoring of a referendum, with more than a 95% ‘NO’ to an open cast mine in Poland, through to military occupation of an area where locals are campaigning against a high speed rail link in Italy, it is obvious that any ‘bottom up’ policy with regards landscape issues is simply non existent. Local campaigners are simply regarded at best as NIMBY’s but frequently as terrorists and one can only assume that such labelling is an easy way to avoid having to explain the huge costs involved in countering local protest – particularly when governments are so closely aligned with multi national developers that they increasingly, indeed it is now the norm, to take it upon themselves to simply attack protest preemptively.
There is an incredible amount of social issues raised with regards the effects that Biodiversity Offsetting as a ‘new’ tool for policy makers would have but all these issues, the complexities of society, not least its connection with its landscapes are generally ignored by policy makers. Thus one cannot help but believe that Biodiversity Offsetting is being used to deliberately ensure that people are once and for all permanently removed from having any say about their place, landscape or further – making the enclosure acts look positively progressive. The clear assumption is that the NGOs are the sole voice for people in their place – something many NGOs assume themselves, quite wrongly.
The sheer volume of academic and scientific text, as well as some fantastic case studies on the ground, which highlight the essential need for public participation in planning and land management have been ripped up or ripped out. Make no mistake – biodiversity offsetting wherever it has occurred, including in England, completely and utterly ignores the complexity and diversity of local society as much as it ignores the complexity and diversity of the nature in our landscapes.
It is easy for me, and I have done so, to completely dismiss BO as pure nonsense as it ignores basic science – how can you offset what we don’t understand fully, what we don’t know even exists? But this has turned my attention away from the very clever political manoeuvring that has gone on with the policy being kept well hidden deliberately – and it is shameful that the NGOs who are apparently the voice of civil society have been more secret than the government. Owen Paterson has stated BO is a ‘win-win’ situation, the developers win, some nature conservation NGOs win – but there is one clear loser, society.
Practitioners, many of whom both in the private and public sector, will be usurped, have been usurped by the progression of BO, (bearing in mind it is now in play), in particular by the crass valuation method used. Any and all site specific work is now at risk. Owen Paterson has bowed to some pressure by insisting that offsetting should be local, but given that the one clear example we have of the BO system operating in England is an offset 11miles from the development then the definition of local is clearly at odds with that of most practitioners (11 miles away is often the responsibility or working patch of someone else), most people (11miles is a long walk) and of course the biodiversity (a very long migration for soil fauna).
Although BO is already in use there is a consultation out on it now. There is a lot of money at stake for those involved in BO, (I wonder how much funding as come from the public purse?), and it will be difficult to campaign against BO as it is so brazenly corrupt – one only has to read the biography of the chairman of the principal brokers for BO, the Environment Bank, for example.
However I do have some optimism with regards BO. It has been brought in at a time of immense polarisation between various sectors of those involved in all aspects of land management and planning. BO is looking likely to be the catalyst that bridges the chasms between so many from very different backgrounds – as demonstrated by those attending the workshop in Brussels, most importantly including those that add to the economy working with and in landscapes. It also provides a platform for showing people that their landscapes do belong to them, a welcome opportunity for landscapists and localists. Owen Paterson wishes to dismiss the PFE forestry disposal furore as done and dusted – I believe that protest against BO has the potential to make the PFE disposal protest look like a lone protestor at the gates of Wells Town Hall.