Thursday, 16 January 2014

Offsetting woodlands: “As someone who has planted an arboretum over recent years, the idea that I am going to trash ancient woodlands is an absolute outrage to me personally.”

The idea of 'offsetting' 
Futures Forum: Biodiversity
Futures Forum: Biodiversity in East Devon
Futures Forum: Biodiversity and offsetting nightingales
seems to be gaining ground:

Owen Paterson: I've planted trees so can't be accused of 'trashing' woodlands

Owen Paterson, the environment secretary, has said that he can't be accused of 'trashing' ancient woodlands because he planted an arboretum last year

11:53AM GMT 09 Jan 2014

The environment secretary has said that "trashing" ancient woodlands to make way for unwanted housing would be "absolute travesty" but admitted they could be bulldozed as a "last resort". 
Owen Paterson said he was "personally" offended by the public backlash against him and said his role in planting an arboretum last year helped demonstrate his environmental credentials.
Mr Paterson has been strongly criticised by environmental campaigners after suggesting last week that developers could be allowed to build on centuries-old forests if they plant 100 times as many new trees elsewhere.
Mr Paterson said a form of “offsetting” could be used to enable forests dating back more than 400 years to be flattened for housing or transport projects.
However, yesterday in the Commons Mr Paterson insisted that planning protections for ancient woodlands will remain in place. He conceded, however, that "some assets are too precious" to built on, even as a last resort.
Owen Paterson: I've planted trees so can't be accused of 'trashing' woodlands - Telegraph
Defra says planning process no threat to ancient trees after Paterson brings offsetting onto agenda | Horticulture Week

This has failed to assuage fears for woodlands in Devon:

Fears over the future of ancient Devon woodlands

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: January 06, 2014

The Westcountry’s ancient woodlands could be under threat if Government plans to allow developers to destroy woodland – if they agree to plant 100 trees for each one felled – get the go ahead.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has sparked anger from campaigners after defending the “biodiversity offsetting” scheme he plans to introduce. The scheme would allow developers to compensate for the destruction of habitats by creating or enhancing other natural areas.
About 7.5% of the land area in Cornwall is woodland, measuring some 26,869 hectares, while ancient woods in Devon include Wistman’s Wood on Dartmoor, which is around 263 hectares.
Mr Paterson told The Times the policy could be applied to woods dating back more than 400 years – around a third of all woodland in England. While destroying mature trees was a “tragic loss”, replacing each with 100 new ones would “deliver a better environment over the long term”, he said.
Defra said any move to build on ancient woodland would be restricted to major projects and would only get planning permission in exceptional cases.
Mr Paterson conceded that the present generation of UK residents would lose out and that replacement sites could be up to an hour away by car. But he insisted the initiative – designed to ease the construction of homes, roads and major projects – would result in an “enormous increase” in trees.
“The point about offsetting is it will deliver a better environment over the long term,” he told the newspaper. He signalled that he would like to see offsetting become compulsory to encourage a market of sites that could be improved.
The notion was one recommendation of a report by the Commons Environmental Audit Committee which also raised serious concerns. It said the proposed system was too simplistic to take into account the full value of the lost sites and a full assessment of pilot projects was required.
While speeding up development was welcome, there was a risk developers were given “carte blanche” to concrete over valuable habitats, it concluded. The report specifically highlighted fears ancient woodland and Sites of Special Scientific Interest would not be adequately protected.
Friends of the Earth nature campaigner Paul de Zylva said including ancient woodlands “highlights the absurdity” of the policy. He said: “It’s the quality of forests that’s important, not just the quantity of trees. Ministers should be protecting nature, instead of gambling with it by allowing Britain’s best wildlife sites to be shifted around the country. “The Government’s madcap biodiversity offsetting plans should get the chop – not our forests.”

Fears over the future of ancient Devon woodlands | Exeter Express and Echo
Can't simply replace trees | North Devon Journal
Woodlands under threat | Plymouth Herald

Biodiversity offsetting - UK Parliament
Environmental Audit Committee - UK Parliament

Whilst some quarters are uncertain about the Environment Secretary's intentions:

... another Paterson classic in response to environmentalist fears that his “biodiversity offsetting” plan could mean replacement of ancient woodland. “As someone who has planted an arboretum over recent years, the idea that I am going to trash ancient woodlands is an absolute outrage to me personally,” he insisted. Apart from coming out as the first arbiculturalist cabinet minister since Michael Heseltine, Paterson will not have reassured doubters with this answer. It fails to see the wood for the trees.

Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Owen Paterson, Cruella de Vil of the environment - UK Politics - UK - The Independent
Futures Forum: If you have an expensive house near the sea, it’s time to sell

Other commentators doubt the whole premise of 'offsetting'. From yesterday's Guardian:

Biodiversity offsetting smacks of middle class environmentalism

Only a fool would deny that there is a housing crisis, but alleviating it doesn’t have to involve bulldozing ancient woods
Biodiversity offsetting
'Where should locals go for a walk once their local woodland has been destroyed? According to Paterson, driving for an hour is considered a "local offset."' Photograph: Alamy
No-one can doubt that the UK is in the grip of a chronic housing shortage. But can the desperate need for new housing be met without loss to the environment? Remarkably, the government says it can.
Their silver bullet solution is biodiversity offsetting: a market mechanism that will allow developments to flourish while protecting the environment. In simple terms, if you destroy ancient woodlands, wildlife and vital habitats in one place, you have to pay to create it in another. Or, as environment Secretary Owen Paterson said recently in the clearest signal yet of the government’s determination to push ahead with this policy: “For every tree that falls a hundred should bloom elsewhere”.
Who could object?
The answer is activists and NGOs the length and breadth of Britain who see biodiversity offsetting as a license to trash national parks, ancient woods, village greens and the last bit of green space in your city. The government has made plain that it sees the policy as offering a “simpler, faster way through the planning system.” But by loosening planning laws, biodiversity offsetting becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. As development projects increase, so biodiversity decreases – and becomes more important. 
If biodiversity offsetting is going to legitimise biodiversity destruction, you would at least hope that offsetting does what it says on the tin, and that developers actually replace what they ruined. So what’s the track record?
Though new to Europe, offsetting nature has been done for decades in Australia, the US and Canada. And their experience is predominantly one of failure. In Canada, for instance, in projects that offset fish habitat loss, researchers found that 63% of projects failed to achieve the stated target of no net loss. In another study looking at a broad range of restoration projects around the world, the research shows that less than a third of restoration offsets succeeded. This doesn’t mean that restoring brown field sites is a bad idea – on the contrary – but it should not be at the expense of destroying existing biodiversity.
Biodiversity is unique, mysterious, wild and dynamic. We actually know very little about most biodiversity. It’s estimated that anywhere between 10 million and 100 million species still await discovery. Biodiversity in a particular site differs from season to season, so capturing an accurate picture of the state of biodiversity can take years, far more than the 20 minutes the government’s Green Paper suggests an assessment will take.
Sometimes biodiversity can return, but it can take tens, hundreds or thousands of years to replace. Paterson himself admitted that ancient woodland took centuries to form. So what would he and the government have the birds, bugs and plants do in the meantime?
And what about local communities? Where should locals go for a walk once their local woodland has been destroyed? According to Paterson, driving for an hour is considered a "local offset." That’s an exceptional day out for most.
Biodiversity offsetting smacks of middle class environmentalism and could drive an even bigger wedge between our precious, protected landscapes and our undervalued, quietly nurturing, everyday natural spaces. Our parks and local fields may not have exceptional and rare biodiversity but they are fundamental to our wellbeing. It’s easy to forget that for every offset site there is an area of green space being destroyed.
Forest NGO Fern visited an offset site in the south of France that was restoring rare habitat for two iconic bird species. To all intents and purposes, it was a rare example of successful restoration. The bird species had settled, admittedly an impressive sight to a bird spotter such as myself, but the restored site felt sterile and soulless, with no sense of place. It was as wild as a zoo, like a biodiversity amusement park, unconnected to the rest of the world.
Given the growing climate and biodiversity crisis, we should be working around nature, not the other way round. This doesn’t mean no development. Only a fool would deny that there is a housing crisis, but alleviating it doesn’t have to involve bulldozing ancient woods.
In 2011, the government was forced into a u-turn on its plan to privatise England's forests. With concerted opposition, it can also be forced to reverse its similarly disastrous plans to enable the destruction of some of our most precious nature. 
 Hannah Mowat works for forest NGO Fern, and Helen Anderson is a campaigner at Save our Woods

Biodiversity offsetting smacks of middle class environmentalism | Environment | theguardian.com

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