Biodiversity offsetting: what does the science say?

Biodiversity offsetting has been in the pipeline for a number of years in the UK. It was a major feature of the Natural Environment White Paper in 2010, and the Ecosystems Market Task Force highlighted biodiversity offsetting as their top recommendation that represents benefits for both nature and business.

Despite the enthusiasm behind biodiversity offsetting, there are still many uncertainties in both the science behind the process and its implementation in the real world. Last year, a two-year pilot offsetting scheme was initiated by Defra in 6 areas across England. Now halfway into the pilot period, they are not as successful as might have been hoped. As the ENDS report notes, not one offset has made it off the drawing board.

Nevertheless, offsetting is an important policy area that is gathering momentum – the issues here will become even more high-profile in the coming months.

To explore offsetting further, and how it could be implemented in broader schemes across the UK, Defra is expected to publish a Biodiversity Offsetting Green Paper later this year. A Green Paper is an initial consultation document that outlines the Government’s policy proposals to allow discussion in Parliament and with relevant stakeholders and interested parties.

To prepare for this, the BES is holding a small meeting on 17 September in central London to draw together expertise on the science behind offsetting. The aim of the meeting will be to produce a summary of what current science research tells us about what can be achieved with offsetting – including what approaches work in an ecological sense, and what the limits of current knowledge are.

In order to focus our work specifically on the ‘science angle’, we will be attempting to distinguish between issues in this area that are ultimately based on value judgements, and issues within which a message from ecological research can be found or is needed. As with so much of the BES’s policy work, our big question is ‘what does the science say?’

If you have relevant scientific expertise in this area, and would like to contribute to producing this BES summary, please get in touch. The total number of participants for the meeting will be strictly limited, but we would welcome expressions of interest from other individuals, briefly describing their background and the contribution they could make to a meeting aimed at pulling together such a summary. There will also be opportunities for others to comment on the draft summary by email after the meeting.

If you are interested in being allocated a place to contribute in person, or would like to correspond by email after the meeting, please see our website for more information and contact