Biodiversity Offsetting – can it deliver for species? Some questions to think about.

In our first guest blog in this Offsetting series to complement our latest campaign, Alice Farr shares the Buglife view on the proposals.

“I think everyone will agree that the current situation in England is bad – new development is leading to wildlife losses. No doubt about it.

A sobering example is that a recent Buglife report demonstrated that in the Thames Gateway around 50% of wildlife-rich brownfield sites have been lost or damaged since 2006. Whilst not always the first thought for nature conservation brownfield land can be home to as many rare invertebrates as ancient woodland, so this loss is not good news for our wildlife.

Canvey Wick – a brownfield site in Essex with more biodiversity per square foot than any other site in the UK.

Canvey Wick – a brownfield site in Essex with more biodiversity per square foot than any other site in the UK.

Something needs to be done. In principle offsetting could be one way to help address this problem but as with everything the devil is in the detail and there are still so many questions that need answering before we know if it will work or not.

Crucially for Buglife, the biggest question is how will it deliver for species?

And in particular will it deliver for invertebrates? That is all those species without backbones, many of which are facing extinction. Invertebrates are vitally important to a healthy planet – humans and other life forms could not survive without them. The food we eat, the fish we catch, the birds we see, the flowers we smell and the hum of life we hear, simply would not exist without bugs.

Despite their crucial role invertebrates often have a bit of a raw deal in planning. They tend to be of lowest priority when a development is planned, and mitigation to reduce the impact of a development generally doesn’t cater for their specific needs. Buglife’s concern is whether these issues and more will be translated into any offsetting system developed.

A suggested methodology has been put forward to calculate the amount of replacement habitat needed when an area is lost to development.  How do we know the special features in a habitat that bugs rely on will be translated to the new habitat? Or in some cases do we even know what those special features are? How will the species get to the new habitat? Do we even know what bugs are on the development site?

Thinking about it practically, an area of lowland meadow is to be lost to development and the quantity of habitat recreation required is calculated. A purely habitat-focussed scheme may not pick up on specific habitat features that are enabling some insects to be there – this could be the bare and open ground, varied topography, damp areas within this habitat or even a patch of thistles or hogweed that are crucial for flower-visiting insects during certain weeks of the year .

Another consideration which is difficult to address is location of an offset. Brownfield sites in the Thames Gateway are specific to their geographical location, climate and aspect. As a result these sites have a completely different species assemblage to brownfield sites in areas such as Teeside. Replacing Thames Gateway brownfield land with a different sort of gain elsewhere is not a meaningful equivalent.

The Streaked bombardier beetle (Brachinus sclopeta) has such complex lifecycle, it is challenging to ensure that all its needs are addressed.

From a biology perspective there are species we simply just don’t know that much about. For example priority species like the Four banded weevil wasp (Cerceris quadricincta) and Five banded weevil wasp (Cerceris quinquefasciata) are often absent from places where areas of suitable habitat exist, for unknown reasons. The Streaked bombardier beetle (Brachinus sclopeta) has such a complex lifecycle, involving the needs of hosts, that it is very difficult to recreate a habitat for them with any certainty of success. 

These are just a few of the practicalities Defra need to think about. As you can see species are complicated, especially invertebrates!  However we can’t just ignore them because it is too difficult to come up with a simple answer. To even start addressing impacts on wildlife we need to answer these questions, after all, invertebrates may only be small but they do enable life on earth!”

Alice Farr leads Buglife’s work to protect invertebrates through advocacy on planning policy and engaging with the planning system at a local level. Before that she was part of the Public Affairs team at the Woodland Trust campaigning to protect ancient woodland and working with communities to help them get involved in local planning issues.

We all have until November 7th to get our responses in to this consultation!  Please add to the debate below – but do make sure you tell Defra what you think too!


In the meantime you can find further information about the consultation, and the Trust’s concerns here.


About Kaye Brennan

Trying vegan, staying warm. Occasional bursts of words.
This entry was posted in Campaigning, Climate Change, Conservation, Consultation, Defra, England, Government Affairs and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Biodiversity Offsetting – can it deliver for species? Some questions to think about.

  1. David Robert Hann says:

    David Hann
    Offsetting just results in the status quo.We need more places for wildlife.Having the same quantity of wlflife sites is just not acceptable.

  2. Pingback: Les invertébrés ? Ce sont toutes ...

  3. Biodiversity “offsetting” will not work. All it will do is make unsustainable projects appear sustainable. You cannot destroy an established habitat with established populations of wildlife and replace it elsewhere. Habitats take years to develop and in the meantime, there could well be local and maybe even regional extinctions of some species.

    Value to wildlife of a site is also based on more than size – a small thin strip of woodland can be immensely beneficial to wildlife if it connects two larger woodlands together, and destroying that and recreating it elsewhere will result in net loss of biodiversity. Some sites are also location specific and types of soil come into it as well with some plant species.

    Better to have stricter planning laws and not destroy the sites in the first place.

  4. You might be interested in this blog we published back at the beginning of September:

    Biodiversity Off-setting and Invertebrate Conservation –

    by Robert Homan (County Moth Recorder for East Gloucestershire)

  5. Pingback: Biodiversity Offsetting – can it deliver ...

  6. Wonderful information, I am always in search of more details around this subject; it is such an important topic.

  7. Too often, people are hag-ridden by the day-to-day problems of just keeping alive; they forget to take time to smell the flowers, pause and wonder at the sheer brilliance of a spider’s web bejewelled with raindrops, or just listen to the wind soughing through the trees.

    I have felt the angst of a child whose mother is so preoccupied with trundling her loaded trolley, she fails to see the misery of her child’s bewilderment at the fact there is no time for chatter or bonding during the mind-boggling hurtle through the supermarket. One word, one smile would have meant so much.

    These are the children who may never know what it is to walk among trees, hear the bees, or the whisper of the leaves and the chuckle of a stream as it gurgles its way towards a river and the sea. As the concrete jungles spread their necessary contamination ever wider, we few who care must increase the volume of our protest.

  8. Derek WEst says:

    Brown field sites can hold an enormous diversity of life,far more than we have in the sterile
    praries of East Anglia,I sympathise with Buglifes comments,but the worlds demands for
    infinite growth gives little hope for the future.

  9. Go Buglife! We need to double the green habitats – after all, most green land is farmed, and does not support many species – though some farmers do try to help nowadays. A lot of green land is heath and only supports heathland species. Etc.

    The national survey used by developers counted in all the public parks, private gardens, roundabouts, verges, etc. as “unbuilt” green land – talk about lies, damn lies and statistics. They also counted in farmland, heathland, and other unbuilt land which does not support a full range of biodiversity.

    Then they came up with a figure of only 2 per cent of land in England being “built” on. This is very misleading, but it is a figure brandished continually by developers and urban planners.

    The first couple of comments on this article about it by the BBC (Mark Easton), plus the map which shows unbuilt areas as mainly farmland, do put things in perspective. But still, it is easy for developers to use the figures in isolation – this is called deception by omission.

    Thanks also for pointing out that brownfield sites are full of small refugee species, and a few larger ones like bats and owls if they have nooks and crannies available. I have a “derelict” brownfield site at the bottom of my garden, and in summer the butterflies and bees literally form clouds around the buddleia, poppies, etc There is no access, but I am sure there are loads of smaller species too – and there are definitely bats using a derelict building.

  10. Peter Kyte says:

    Offset for the species involved, is like robbing Peter twice and then mugging Paul.

  11. Another reason why I started
    or ‘Why is it possible for developers to build on our Best and Most Versatile agricultural land (BMV)?’ I know some people think that farmland is sterile but National Planning Policy is so weak that councils clearly need to go above and beyond that at a local level because protection for BMV soils just isn’t there. You can read more at

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