Compensation culture, part 6

(… continued from Compensation culture, part 5, posted on 4 Mar 2017).

The practical application of biodiversity offsetting is in its infancy in England (see footnote 1), and I believe that HS2 will be the first large-scale project to make use of the technique. Although I have referred to this technique from time to time in my blogs, I feel that a succinct explanation of how it is meant to work might assist, and have found the following in a government publication (see footnote 2):

“Using the biodiversity offsetting approach means that an offset provider [who may be the developer, or another party commissioned by the developer] delivers a quantifiable amount of biodiversity benefit to offset the loss of biodiversity resulting from a development. The losses and gains are measured in the same way, even if the habitats concerned are different. In the biodiversity offsetting pilot, the measurement is done in ‘biodiversity units’, which are the product of the size of an area, and the distinctiveness and condition of the habitat it comprises.”

If the developer is able to demonstrate, using a calculation metric (see footnote 3), that the total of biodiversity units gained is equal to, or greater than, the total lost, then this is evidence that the commitment to no net loss has been achieved. However, biodiversity offsetting should not be seen as a measure of first resort, because the same government publication dictates that it (see footnote 4):

“… will only be considered when the potential to avoid any damage, and mitigate any damage, has been fully considered.”

I think that it is fair to characterise biodiversity offsetting as a work in progress, rather than as a fully-developed policy. The report on the pilot schemes – written in 2014 but not published by the Government until last year – concludes that it is “apparent that the current system needs to be improved in some way if no-net-loss policy is to be met” (see footnote 5).

In response to representations by petitioners to the Commons HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee, HS2 Ltd published, in late 2015, the results of the biodiversity offset calculation for Phase 1 of HS2, based upon the information available then. This summary gives totals of biodiversity units lost and gained for the whole route, broken down into habitat types and further differentiated within those habitat types by “distinctiveness weighting”, allowing a comparison to be made of the way that different habitats will fare before and after HS2 (see footnote 6). In the document HS2 Ltd makes the point that “there is no statutory requirement” for it to publish this document and it “does not form part of the information the promoter is required to provide to support the hybrid Bill” (see footnote 7): clearly, it should be and this is a matter that the Government should address for subsequent phases of the project.

For reasons of its own convenience, HS2 Ltd has largely confined its offset planting proposals to land that is within the bill limits, which is land over which it can exercise compulsory purchase powers. In my view, this severely compromises the benefits that can be derived from the offsetting proposals, and adds to the land take from landowners already losing acreage to construction (see footnote 8).

The breakdown of the results of applying the biodiversity offsetting metric reveals that the biodiversity value of woodland and woodland/scrub habitats will be degraded by HS2 Phase 1, with an overall reduction in biodiversity value of around 10 per cent. Within this overall downgrading there will be a marked reduction in the quality of habitat (the “distinctiveness weighting”), with a 45 per cent reduction in the biodiversity value of the top two of the four identified grades of habitat (see footnote 9). The gains from offsetting will be largely in the lower two grades of habitat, with a 120 per cent increase in the biodiversity value (see footnote 10).

Grassland fares much better from HS2 Phase 1. The grassland in the highest distinctiveness weighting category that will be encountered on the route will see a biodiversity gain of 145 per cent, with biodiversity loss being restricted to the lowest category thereby generating a “trading-up” in quality (see footnote 11).

Hedgerow is also a loser to HS2 Phase 1, with a 13 per cent reduction in biodiversity value if all field boundaries are reinstated after construction. On a safer assumption that a proportion of these boundary hedgerows will not be reinstated, this expected reduction climbs to 21 per cent (see footnote 12).

HS2 Phase 1 will result in an increase in the length of watercourses, leading directly to an increase in biodiversity value of 6 per cent (see footnote 13).

The HS2 Ltd document lumps the remaining habitat types, including lowland fen, remnant heathland, swamp, ephemeral/short perennial habitat and standing water, into a single category of “other habitats”. Overall across all categories of distinctiveness weighting, there will be a decrease in biodiversity value of 32 per cent, with the losses concentrated at the highest grade, where there will be a total loss of biodiversity value resulting from the destruction of lowland fen, and the lowest grade due to loses of arable fields, improved grassland and areas of amenity grassland (see footnote 14).

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. Plans to set up a pilot scheme were announced in the Government’s Natural Environment White Paper, a 50-year vision for the natural environment, published in 2011. See paragraph 2.41 in the publication The Natural Choice: securing the value of nature, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), June 2011. The Biodiversity Offsetting Pilot Scheme in England ran from April 2012 to March 2014.
  2. See paragraphs 10 and 11 in the publication Biodiversity Offsetting Pilots: Guidance for developers, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), March 2012.
  3. Further information on the use of the metric may be found in paragraphs 1.4.1 to 1.4.4 of the publication HS2 London-West Midlands No net loss in biodiversity calculation: Methodology and results, HS2 Ltd, December 2015.
  4. See paragraph 5 in Biodiversity Offsetting Pilots: Guidance for developers.
  5. See the final paragraph of subsection 0.3 in the report Evaluation of the Biodiversity Offsetting Pilot Programme: Final Report Volume 1, Collingwood Environmental Planning Limited and The Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), June 2014.
  6. See Table 3 and Table 4 in HS2 London-West Midlands No net loss in biodiversity calculation: Methodology and results.
  7. See paragraph 1.2.3 in HS2 London-West Midlands No net loss in biodiversity calculation: Methodology and results.
  8. For a fuller exposition of my views on this subject see my blog Not necessarily a good thing, part 2 (posted 15 Jul 2016).
  9. See paragraphs 3.2.6 to 3.2.8, 3.2.10 and Table 3 in HS2 London-West Midlands No net loss in biodiversity calculation: Methodology and results.
  10. See paragraph 3.2.9 and Table 3 in HS2 London-West Midlands No net loss in biodiversity calculation: Methodology and results.
  11. See paragraph 3.2.11 and Table 3 in HS2 London-West Midlands No net loss in biodiversity calculation: Methodology and results.
  12. See paragraphs 3.3.1 to 3.3.3, Table 4 and Table 5 in HS2 London-West Midlands No net loss in biodiversity calculation: Methodology and results.
  13. See paragraph 3.3.4 and Table 4 in HS2 London-West Midlands No net loss in biodiversity calculation: Methodology and results.
  14. See paragraphs 3.2.13 to 3.2.19 and Table 3 in HS2 London-West Midlands No net loss in biodiversity calculation: Methodology and results. I calculate the overall loss to be 2,809 biodiversity units (32 per cent), not 2,687 (31 per cent) as reported in paragraph 3.2.13.

 

 

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks for another interesting post. There is one point I don’t understand – you say that confining planting to the land within the bill limits will add to the land take from landowners losing land to construction. Why? Isn’t this just land they are losing anyway? Thanks very much.

    Reply

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