A new scheme will see developers saving ecosystems, while they build over them

Freiburg by Malcolm Dodds
Freiburg by Malcolm Dodds

England has lost 97 per cent of its low-lying grassland, 150,000 miles of hedgerows and, according to Oxford University, is losing a species of wildlife every week.

There is currently very little benefit for private developers to encourage on-site environmental mitigation, however, a new scheme proposed by The Environment Bank will require developers to buy credits that offset impacts caused by land lost to development. In return, they get greater planning clarity, reduced programme timing costs and better net developable areas. The first pilot site – 1000 square miles at the Thames Headwaters – has already begun.

Robert Gillespie, managing director of the Environment Bank, explained that the future use of these credits fits well with the government’s proposed localism drive. “In times of austerity and a shrinking contribution from the public sector, this private sector money would be used to fund biodiversity at a large scale and could be extended to pay for landscape conservation and other ecosystem services.”

The credit scheme could actually end up creating more biodiverse land than was there before building. In the case of a proposed housing estate on farmland, for example, much of which is now a biodiversity desert, credits purchased by the developer would be used to create something of greater value to biodiversity than farmland, so the ratio applied would take this into account. This is called ‘trading up’.

In an article in The Times this week, Professor David Hill, chairman of the Environment Bank, commented: “If we can get the habitat replacement right, much of the associated species would be expected to be accommodated, especially since conservation credits provide the means to pool money to create large sites. Large sites generally have more species than small ones.” He concluded: “the old system has failed, and conservation credits offer a substantial way forward.”

Fore more information, visit www.environmentbank.com

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