Biodiversity offsetting, peat, conservation covenants and newts on the move

Defra, the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has issued a consultation paper (Green Paper) on biodiversity offsetting and development.  This paper represents a major government commitment to the introduction of biodiversity offsetting as a means to mitigate the environmental impact of development.  Government plans to have definite proposals ready by the end of this year.  Comments are invited by 7 November.

How is it likely to work?  There are already trials underway and Defra has developed a simple ‘metric’ to determine the ‘biodiversity units’ lost to development, and therefore how many units must be offset by positive environmental work elsewhere.  The Green Paper gives a simple example of how this works for a supermarket development on a site which is part derelict, part arable land and part woodland.

A number of questions flow from this: must replacement be like for like, or can one sort of habitat be substituted for another?  Hedgerows in the pilot schemes must be replaced by hedgerows for example, on a ratio of up to 3 new for one lost.

Is this a developer’s charter?  Continue reading “Biodiversity offsetting, peat, conservation covenants and newts on the move”

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Top 10 Natural Business Opportunities: all 12 of them

The top ten business opportunities to protect and value nature’s services have been identified.  With ties for first and ninth places, there are actually 12 of them.  Most of them have implications and opportunities for you if you manage land.

Opportunities for Business Report

Equal first place went to Biodiversity Offsetting and Conservation Banking, tied with the development of a Peatland Carbon Code.  Biodiversity offsetting allows a developer to offset environmental impacts by paying for the management of natural assets elsewhere.  This has been estimated as a market of £50 to £300 million a year from housing alone, and developers have said they are keen to see it develop with the costs deducted from current prices paid for development land (adding to the political attraction of such a scheme).  The business opportunities arise not only from the management of natural assets with this funding, but also from brokerage, certification and registration schemes.

A Peatland Carbon Code would in some ways be a very particular example of biodiversity offsetting, with payments made to peatland managers for its restoration and care based on the storage of carbon – see my last post on the role of peat in carbon capture and storage for a little more background on this.

Third place went to the production of woodfuel and fourth to the development of a UK ecosystem services knowledge economy.

Fifth place is particularly important to rural land managers: the development of Layered PES (what? Layered Payments for Ecosystem Services (What? Read on ….)).  An example might be the management of upland peat in a water catchment or flood risk area.  The water company wants to gather water in as clean a condition as possible – that’s one layer of PES.  Industry five counties away wants to offset its carbon output – that’s another layer of PES.  A consortium of insurance companies or developers wants to invest in flood protection – yet another layer of PES.  This of course calls into play brokerage, registration, certification as well as appropriate management of the asset itself.

Carbon sequestration as an allowable solution to the challenge of zero carbon housing is in sixth place – back to peat again, plus tree growing and very important throughout the property sector from rural land management to planning and building new housing.

Sustainability Certification and Sustainable Tourism sit in seventh and eighth places respectively.

Ninth equal is taken by the opportunities to develop water re-use technology – indirectly important to the construction industry, and the development of the UK as a global centre of excellence for ESS (Ecosystem Services) Certification.

The eleventh place is taken by the opportunity for the insurance industry to reduce the risk of large claims due to natural catastrophe through the development of green infrastructure – absorbent areas of open country to slow and absorb flood runoff for example.  Peat again!

Final position twelve goes to the development of environmental bonds – investment opportunities backed by the government to make finance available to eco-entrepreneurs to raise money on competitive terms.  So that’s where some of the money is going to come from.

Many more opportunities are outlined in the full reports, which can be seen here

Despite their unappealing language it is very clear that these developments have enormous implications – many of them excellent opportunities – for land managers, owners and occupiers in the next few years.  It’s time to become an eco-entrepreneur and learn a new lexicon.

Two wind turbines, some pink feeted geese and a planning delay

The High Court has just handed down its decision in Hargreaves v SoS for Communities and Local Government.  The Cornwall Light and Power Company first applied for permission for two wind turbines on Eagland Hill, Lancashire near the Morecambe Bay Ramsar Site of international wetland importance in April 2008.

The first application was refused so the company applied again in April 2009.  The second application was also refused, in December 2009.  Just within the six month time limit, the company appealed, in May 2010.  The appeal was successful, the planning inspector granting permission subject to various conditions on behalf of the Secretary of State on 25 August 2010.

Mr Hargreaves, a member of the Eagland Hill Action Group and local resident, was aggrieved by the Inspector’s decisioln so he sought judicial review in the High Court.  The High Court sat in Manchester on 12 and 13 July 2011, and has today (2 August 2011), handed down its decision.  So three years and three months after its first application, Cornwall Light and Power Company has secured its permission – subject to any further appeals and the need to comply with a number of conditions before work can actually start.

The basis of the case was that the Inspector had failed to consider properly whether Environmental Impact Assessment was required, that he had failed to undertake an Appropriate Assessment under the Habitat Regulations, that this had resulted in unfairness to the claimant (Mr Hargreaves), and therefore for these reasons the grant of planning permission was unlawful.  A detailed reading of the case report reveals that much debate centred on the exact interpretation to be accorded to the phrase, significant impact.  The points of concern were the adequacy of compensation or mitigation measures for the effect on the local populaton of Pink-Feeted Geese and the visual impact of the two turbines.  Various consultees had concluded that the mitigation measures for the geese, consisting of an alternative feeding area, would be adequate although various further details had to be resolved under the planning conditions imposed by the Inspector.

The claimant’s case was rejected by the judge on all counts, but at what cost to all the participants in both time and money?