Article by Barbara Golding, Ecologist, Warwickshire County Council, Ecological Services
Retaining and enhancing biodiversity in the natural environment has long been an issue partly because biodiversity has not had an economic value attached to it, so unlike products and services it has not been in ‘the marketplace’. However, for the last few years Warwickshire County Council’s ( WCC) Ecology Unit has worked closely with DEFRA on a pilot scheme to produce a metric which measures biodiversity loss or gain and therefore gives an economic value to biodiversity.
The metric is known as a BIA (Biodiversity Impact Assessment) metric (excel spreadsheet) and ecological consultants/developers input the existing habitats on site prior to development and prior to obtaining planning permission. This includes the area, condition, habitats to be retained with no change within development, habitats to be retained and enhanced within development and habitats to be lost within development. Then any indirect negative impacts before and after are also entered. Finally, the proposed habitats on site (on site mitigation) i.e. what habitat creation and enhancement is proposed, is entered into the spreadsheet. This then provides a Habitat Biodiversity Impact Score (loss or gain to biodiversity), plus a Percentage of the biodiversity impact loss.
If the score is a biodiversity loss then onsite compensation is required through a long term landscape and ecological management plan. However, if onsite compensation is not possible then the developer has to ‘offset’, which is to find a nearby site which can be used to offset the biodiversity loss. The developer has to pay for offsetting which can run into thousands of pounds, and is usually secured through a Section 106 agreement accompanying their planning permission. Sometimes Local Authorities have their own land which they can use. Other times we find them land, and sometimes they go through the ‘Environment Bank’ to find suitable land. Warwickshire County Council’s Ecology unit works with farmers and landowners to secure land that can be used for ‘offsetting’.
WCC’s District and Borough Council’s have Service Level Agreements with us to provide them with ecological advice which now includes using the DEFRA metric. We not only assess their planning applications for normal ecological matters but also carry out and assess BIA metrics to make sure they are appropriate and that we agree with the final figures. If not we liaise with the ecological consultants and developers until agreement has been reached. We then support them with biodiversity offsetting which includes a long term management plan for 30 years or for perpetuity.
Barbara Golding BSc (Hons) MSc AIEMA
Warwickshire County Council
PO Box 43
Phone: 01926 418074
Minicom: 01926 412277