Biodiversity offsets and habitat banking as priority nature conservation policy options in the UK

In a recent paper* published in the October 2010 issue of the Journal of Applied Ecology, William Sutherland and his co-authors examined more than a hundred policy options for conserving nature in the United Kingdom. Together with representatives from several stakeholders groups, they selected a final list of 25 propositions.

Among these, biodiversity offsets are mentioned several times as useful tools. They are mentioned in the context of measures to develop and maintain ecologically coherent networks (i.e. banks and offset sites should contribute to these networks) and in the goal of streamlining conservation action for European protected species (within existing legislation). Concerning the latter, the authors suggest that impact assessments and offset schemes should focus on the status of entire populations (or meta-populations) rather than on individuals or sites. Biodiversity offsets are also mentioned as part of setting up a specific policy for no-net-loss of biodiversity.

A specific section of the paper deals with the development of habitat banking in the UK. The authors suggest two levels of compensation: one for specifically targeted species or habitat types (i.e. those that have priority status) and one for more “common” biodiversity for which more generic “habitat” banking could be appropriate. The paper also mentions ecosystem services as a useful concept for nature conservation in the UK but there is no suggestion that the concept could or should be used in the context of generic habitat banking.

The paper’s abstract:

1. The conservation of biodiversity depends upon both policy and regulatory frameworks. Here, we identify priority policy developments that would support conservation in the UK in the light of technological developments, changes in knowledge or environmental change.

2. A team of seven representatives from governmental organizations, 17 from non-governmental organizations and six academics provided an assessment of the priority issues. The representatives consulted widely and identified a long-list of 117 issues.

3.  Following voting and discussion during a 2-day meeting, these were reduced to a final list of 25 issues and their potential policy options and research needs were identified. Many of the policies related to recent changes in approaches to conservation, such as increased interest in ecosystem services, adaptation to climate change and landscape ecology.

4. We anticipate that this paper will be useful for policy makers, nature conservation delivery agencies, the research community and conservation policy advocates.

5.  Although many of the options have global significance, we suggest that other countries consider an equivalent exercise. We recommend that such an exercise be carried out in the UK at regular intervals, say every 5 years, to explore how biodiversity conservation can best be supported by linked policy development and research in a changing world.

6. Synthesis and applications. Opportunities for policy development were prioritized and for each of the top 25 we identified the current context, policy options and research questions. These largely addressed new issues relating to developing topics such as ecosystem services, landscape planning and nanotechnology. We envisage that this will largely be used by researchers wishing to make a contribution to potential policy debates.

*: Sutherland et al. (2010): The identification of priority policy options for UK nature conservation. Journal of Applied Ecology, 47: 955–965 (doi:10.1111/j.1365-2664.2010.01863.x)

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