IEMA has today called on Government to develop a firm and concerted policy approach to rebuilding England’s “depleted” natural infrastructure.

In responding to Defra’s Green Paper consultation on Biodiversity Offsetting, IEMA states that a well-developed offsetting scheme can make a contribution to rebuild the country’s ecological networks. Defra’s consultation paper outlined Government proposals for rolling out biodiversity offsetting in England, including options for a mandatory requirement.

Commenting on the proposals, Nick Blyth IEMA’s Policy and Practice Lead said: “Government’s biodiversity policy approach itself needs to be bigger, better and more joined up,”

Biodiversity offsetting has a role to play, but the mitigation hierarchy must be followed to avoid and reduce impacts as far as possible in the first instance. Lessons should be learned from earlier experience with carbon offsetting (a practice that has previously suffered some significant lack of confidence). A transparent and robust approach will be required, and with safeguards put in place to avoid the risk of developers ‘jumping’ to an offset solution," he added.

Through its consultation response, IEMA has called for an integrated policy approach which pursues “meaningful, not marginal ‘net gain’ for wildlife”, and identifies key resourcing and capacity issues that need to be addressed. The response also highlights that a renewed focus on the mitigation hierarchy will be needed, alongside improved monitoring.

IEMA’s recommendations build on those made by Sir John Lawton in his 2010 independent review of England’s wildlife sites and ecological networks. He considered whether England’s remaining wildlife areas represented a coherent and robust ecological network capable of responding to the challenges of climate change and other pressures on our wildlife. His report indicated that many species are now largely restricted to wildlife sites simply because they have mostly been lost from everywhere else. It further indicated that England’s series of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (the SSSI series) – while vitally important - does not in alone comprise a coherent and resilient ecological network.

At its simplest, biodiversity offsetting is a process which requires developers to compensate for any residual loss of wildlife habitat by creating new wildlife areas (such as grasslands and woodlands) at other sites.

IEMA highlights that biodiversity offsetting is not a straightforward process or one that is without risk. It absolutely requires leadership from Government to provide a credible scheme that can give confidence to all parties.