Bio bank­ing

Quan­ti­fy­ing na­ture

Element - - Contents - By So­phie Bar­clay

The value of na­ture is in­fi­nite. It un­der­pins our qual­ity of life, the econ­omy and has sci­en­tific, spir­i­tual, re­cre­ational, cul­tural and po­ten­tial eco­nomic sig­nif­i­cance. And yet, it is cur­rently worth­less.

The way around this, says Dr David Hill, chair­man of UK’S new En­vi­ron­ment Bank, is to make na­ture eco­nom­i­cally vis­i­ble. Con­tro­ver­sial? Cer­tainly. But, he says, wide­spread degra­da­tion hap­pens sim­ply be­cause peo­ple haven’t been able to make a profit out of na­ture – they haven’t ‘in­vested into’ it, leav­ing na­ture with no eco­nomic value. Hill, an ecol­o­gist and or­nithol­o­gist with a back­ground in en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sult­ing, set up the bank af­ter twenty frus­trat­ing years try­ing (un­suc­cess­fully) to get bio­di­ver­sity mit­i­ga­tion schemes within de­vel­op­ment sites to work.

The Bank acts as a trad­ing plat­form be­tween de­vel­op­ers and the farm­ers, landown­ers and con­ser­va­tion bod­ies ap­ply­ing for fund­ing for restora­tion projects and pro­tec­tion of ex­ist­ing sites. De­vel­op­ers need­ing to pur­chase cred­its to off­set de­vel­op­ment, come into the Bank, choose which sites they want to in­vest in and are given credit cer­tifi­cates and an off­set­ting agree­ment – proof to coun­cils that de­vel­op­ers aren’t shirk­ing their mit­i­ga­tion re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

Cred­its cost be­tween £30,000 to £130,000 per hectare – a steal com­pared to the loss of a hectare of de­vel­opable land, which has an av­er­age value of £400,000 to £700,000. “Off­set­ting gives de­vel­op­ers cer­tainty and fi­nan­cial clar­ity, as well as the op­por­tu­ni­ties to do what they do best – de­velop. It lets them pro­vide funds, through us, to cre­ate more suc­cess­ful mit­i­ga­tion, restora­tion and cre­ation of habi­tats.”

Strict val­u­a­tion meth­ods pro­tect ar­eas from in­ap­pro­pri­ate de­vel­op­ment. “We want habi­tats like an­cient wood­lands to be screened out at the be­gin­ning of the process. You can’t do any­thing else – you just can’t recre­ate an­cient wood­land,” states Hill. Rare ecosys­tems or en­dan­gered species are pro­tected at both a na­tional and Euro­pean level.

The more dis­tinct and bet­ter the con­di­tion of the pro­posed de­vel­op­ment site, the big­ger the bill. De­vel­op­ers must ad­here to the prin­ci­ple of ‘like for like’, en­sur­ing the same type of habi­tat is cre­ated in an off­set as the type de­stroyed (oth­er­wise a more ex­pen­sive off­set will be needed) and cre­ate ‘no net loss’, or a net gain, as a re­sult of the off­set. So, say a wind farm was go­ing to kill 20 birds each year, de­vel­op­ers could in­vest in a breed­ing pro­gramme en­sur­ing 40 more of those same birds hatched ev­ery year, cre­at­ing a ‘net gain’ of 20 birds.

Off­set­ting schemes tend to at­tract cyn­i­cal op­po­nents, fum­ing about the ‘li­cense to trash’ – let­ting fat cat de­vel­op­ers de­stroy at will. Ac­cord­ing to Hill, that’s ex­actly what won’t hap­pen. “You can say to de­vel­op­ers ‘you could de­velop there, but the cost would be so mas­sive to off­set, so why would you?’ It pro­vides in­cen­tives to de­velop some­where else.” The Royal So­ci­ety of New Zealand is cur­rently fund­ing a cross­de­part­men­tal re­search pro­gramme into bi­o­log­i­cal off­set­ting in New Zealand. Bio­di­ver­sity off­sets pro­gramme man­ager for the Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion, Gerri Ward, ex­plains: “There is a need for the gov­ern­ment to clar­ify our view on off­set­ting, whilst not in­di­cat­ing that we are ad­vo­cates of off­set­ting in any way.” Ward is clear that soon-to-be re­leased rec­om­men­da­tions will set the bar for what is an ap­pro­pri­ate off­set, as many de­vel­op­ers are now pre­sent­ing their own ver­sion to the En­vi­ron­ment Court as part of their mit­i­ga­tion strate­gies.

Ward says they want to phrase off­set­ting in terms of con­ser­va­tion ac­tions rather than mon­e­tary value – en­sur­ing de­vel­op­ers, for ex­am­ple, in­crease the pop­u­la­tions of ki­wis in an af­fected area rather than pass the money, and re­spon­si­bil­ity, over to DOC. “We see it as a com­mit­ment to on­go­ing con­ser­va­tion and en­hance­ment when there wasn’t one, prefer­ably for per­pe­tu­ity.”

A lack of sci­ence means valu­ing bio­di­ver­sity can be prob­lem­atic, of­ten re­sult­ing in a poor re­flec­tion of the true ‘value’ of a site. But as long as the lan­guage of money rules in decision-mak­ing, a ‘val­ued’ en­vi­ron­ment will be an im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion in any kind of de­vel­op­ment.

“Off­set­ting gives de­vel­op­ers cer­tainty and fi­nan­cial clar­ity, as well as the op­por­tu­ni­ties to do what they do best – de­velop. It lets them pro­vide funds, through us, to cre­ate more suc­cess­ful mit­i­ga­tion, restora­tion

and cre­ation of habi­tats.”

Dr David Hill

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