Biological Offsetting (England) – Update

I posted in September about DEFRA consultation – my post is here.

Consultation is now closed. Current information is found here.

The results of DEFRA analysis of public feedback will be posted here.

Biodiversity offsets are conservation activities that are designed to give biodiversity benefits to compensate for losses – ensuring that when a development damages nature (and this damage cannot be avoided) new, bigger or better nature sites will be created. They are different from other types of ecological compensation as they need to show measurable outcomes that are sustained over time.

Statements made at the House of Commons Debates – 9th January 2014 – are as follows:

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op):
The Minister will know that this year is the 150th anniversary of the death of one of our greatest poets of the countryside, John Clare. He wrote a great deal about diseased trees—there was a plague of oak disease in his lifetime—and he was certainly a great defender of the English countryside. What does the Minister think John Clare would have thought of giving up our ancient woodland and replacing it with new growth?

Dan Rogerson:
I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing a cultural dimension to our proceedings so early this morning. I share his concern, and that of John Clare, for ancient woodland, and that is why the guidance is very clear. In any discussions about development, the guidance we offer to all local authorities is very clear that ancient woodland should be protected.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab):
I want to press the Minister on the issue of protecting our ancient woodlands. Today’s written ministerial statement talks about planting lots of new trees, but does he accept that that is no replacement for the destruction of ancient trees? The quantity of new trees will not be a substitute for the diversity and quality of such woodland.

Dan Rogerson:
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to point out that, given the maturity of such ecosystems, ancient woodland has a whole range of things that new planting cannot hope to replicate. That is why the planning guidance is absolutely clear that the hierarchy should protect ancient woodland.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab):
Will the Secretary of State clarify how the remarks he made on allowing ancient woodland to be lost to development meet the spirit of his Department’s forestry policy statement which states categorically:“Protection of our trees, woods and forests, especially our ancient woodland, is our top priority”?

Mr Paterson:
I am absolutely delighted to be able to reassure the hon. Lady and the hon. Members for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) that the idea that biodiversity offsetting could be used as a means of imposing unwanted houses on ancient woodland is an absolute travesty. It is absolutely clear: all along we have always said that should we bring in offsetting—I made this clear to the all-party group—all the current protections of the planning regime and all the mitigation hierarchy remain. Only at the very last moment could offsetting be considered, and we have always said that some assets will be too precious to offset and—[Interruption.] Exactly, and that might well be ancient woodland.

The hon. Lady should look at examples of offsetting in countries like Australia, where there has been an 80% shift of planning applications away from fragile environments. Used properly, therefore, biodiversity offsetting could be a tremendous tool to protect those ancient woodlands which she and I value. As someone who has planted an arboretum over recent years, the idea that I am going to trash ancient woodlands is an absolute outrage to me personally.”

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