Biodiversity offsetting: uncertainty and unanswered questions — a post by the British Ecological Socierty

The British Eco­log­i­cal Soci­ety (BES) in a recent post looks at uncer­tainty and unan­swered ques­tions with regard to bio­di­ver­sity off­sets. The author of the arti­cle con­cludes that since the UK government’s con­sul­ta­tion closed at the end of 2013, “the Gov­ern­ment has made lit­tle progress in final­is­ing and imple­ment­ing an off­set­ting pol­icy, with the results of the con­sul­ta­tion yet to be pub­lished.  With the gen­eral elec­tion just a few weeks away, the deci­sion as to how – or if – bio­di­ver­sity off­set­ting is put into prac­tice in Eng­land will fall to the next Gov­ern­ment […] One of the BES’s key ambi­tions for the next Par­lia­ment is that envi­ron­men­tal pol­icy is informed by sound sci­en­tific evi­dence, and that policy-makers have access to the best avail­able eco­log­i­cal sci­ence to inform decision-making. How the next Gov­ern­ment chooses to take bio­di­ver­sity off­set­ting for­ward will be a key test of this principle.”

You can access the full arti­cle online on the web­sie of the British Eco­log­i­cal soci­ety. For more infor­ma­tion see some of the “unan­swered ques­tions” below.

Unan­swered questions

  1. Improv­ing our under­stand­ing of the impli­ca­tions of bio­di­ver­sity off­set­ting across a greater range of habi­tats. Most stud­ies to date have focused on wet­lands and grass­lands, but this needs to be extended to include habi­tats such as forests, marine habi­tats and uplands.
  2. Under­stand­ing the man­age­ment actions and timescales required to restore sites to func­tion­ing ecosys­tems equiv­a­lent to the habi­tats lost to development.
  3. Devel­op­ment of a com­pre­hen­sive frame­work for treat­ing uncer­tainty in off­sets, for exam­ple to inform mul­ti­pli­ers and habi­tat banking.
  4. An accepted and uni­ver­sal design for bio­di­ver­sity off­set­ting schemes that con­sid­ers the wider con­text of devel­op­ment, the off­set account­ing sys­tem, and the approach to defin­ing and cal­cu­lat­ing bio­di­ver­sity losses and gains.
  5. A deeper debate on the moral and eth­i­cal dimen­sions of off­set­ting, exam­in­ing the social assump­tions, impli­ca­tions and val­ues that under­pin this approach, and set­ting it within national, regional and local contexts.


Biodiversity offsetting: uncertainty and unanswered questions — a post by the British Ecological Socierty — 2 Comments

  1. I agree with the aims of the British Eco­log­i­cal Soci­ety (BES)in ensur­ing gov­ern­ment and the rel­a­tive organ­i­sa­tions in ques­tion to ‘have the best sci­en­tific knowl­edge avail­able upon which to base deci­sion mak­ing’. Unfor­tu­nately, I believe the com­plex­i­ties of bio­di­ver­sity food-webs and species dis­tri­b­u­tion make it extremely dif­fi­cult that humans will be able to ‘model’ envi­ron­ments. The best we can prob­a­bly obtain is to approx­i­mate it and ‘err’ on the ‘safe side’ to ensure ‘no net loss’ and prefer­ably an improve­ment in biodiversity.

    The sec­ond point, is that gov­ern­ment being ‘what it is’ will likely want to use any sci­en­tific ‘endeav­our’ as a ‘polit­i­cal foot­ball’ and per­haps choose to dis­re­gard many aspects ‘put forward’…because the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity believes it to be almost impos­si­ble to ‘model’ bio­log­i­cal diver­sity. This needs to be ‘dis­cour­aged’ by explain­ing that ‘sci­ence has been try­ing to model the world’ for thou­sands of years, so it should not be judged ‘too harshly’ if it is unable to model this aspect of the world now.


  2. Dear Kevin,
    Many thanks for your valu­able thoughts. And yes, I (per­son­ally) do agree very much with your crit­i­cism of black-and-white-painting. While “the best sci­en­tific knowl­edge” may sound ide­al­is­tic in the best case and an empty catch phrase in the worst, you are quite right that despite the lack in fully under­stand­ing bio­di­ver­sity and its var­i­ous inter­re­la­tions, this shouldn’t pre­vent us from coun­ter­bal­anc­ing (or at least try­ing to) the human made impacts. Untouched from this is my firm belief that this should not be mar­keted as “heroic” or extra­or­di­nary in any sense, but as the very least we could do…

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