In 2013 we reported that Warwickshire County Council was leading a pilot biodiversity offsetting scheme covering Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull with a view to offsetting becoming an accepted mechanism in the planning system, with a number of offset providers already registered. Eight years later, we are delighted to report that the project is bearing fruit. Last year one of our longstanding clients, local developer AC Lloyd, purchased a number of biodiversity offsetting units from the Alscot Estate near Stratford which had entered into a landmark agreement with Warwickshire County Council in early 2020. This landmark agreement, one of the first of its kind, saw the Council licensing the Alscot Biodiversity Project to offer biodiversity offsetting units to developers.
How it works
As part of the planning process, developers must, where possible, mitigate biodiversity loss caused by development. However, if there is insufficient scope for restitution on site, then biodiversity offsetting allows developers to ‘invest’ in suitable ‘receptor sites’ delivering suitable biodiversity enhancements. Although AC Lloyd has been able to mitigate some of the biodiversity loss resulting from their residential development near Bishop’s Tachbrook on site, the majority will be offset by investing in the Alscot Biodiversity Project. The Project is the result of the Alscot Estate working closely with ecologists and environmental organisations over the last two years, to devise a long-term management plan to conserve and create the growth of wildlife habitats. AC Lloyd’s investment will enable the Project to increase the biodiversity value of the land, including the restoration of existing meadows to neutral grasslands.
Opportunities for landowners
Traditionally, biodiversity offsetting has been done either through offsetting schemes set up by developers themselves or by making financial payments directly to councils. Although AC Lloyd did require an amendment to the s.106 clause in their planning permission to enable them to approach the estate directly (via a surveyor advising Alscot on their Biodiversity Project) this method of approaching biodiversity offsetting demonstrates a potential diversification route that is a win-win for all involved. As Emma Holman-West, Alscot’s owner, noted ‘The success of the Estate is founded on its visionary approach to modern estate management, with diversification a core element’.
The biodiversity offsetting credits are calculated using a metric devised by Defra which is based on the quality and quantity of existing habitats and the potential for biodiversity enhancements. The main advantages for landowners are:
- Long term projects giving security of income for a given period, although any landowner entering into an offsetting agreement must commit to being in it for the long haul;
- Landowners set the price for the credits which will accurately reflect the cost of habitat restoration and creation, and all other costs incurred including the potential need for ecological experts;
- Dovetails neatly with the requirements for biodiversity net gain set out in the Environmental Bill;
- Enables farmers to diversify on land which may be unsuitable for agricultural production.
Loss of habitats and ecosystems is showing no signs of slowing which is why the government has placed the environment at the centre of its new agricultural policy. A practical example of offsetting, as demonstrated by the AC Lloyd / Alscot agreement, should serve to incentivise both developers and landowners to take advantage of such schemes. For farmers and landowners, the funding from the sale of credits can be used to give marginal land a new lease of life by creating biodiverse habitats without loss of income or control.