Biodiversity Offsetting Pilot

What is Biodiversity Offsetting?

Biodiversity offsetting deals with compensation.  It provides a measurable and strategic approach for compensating for any harm resulting from a development, that cannot be avoided or adequately mitigated (see the national policy context below).

Benefits of offsetting for developers include:

  • It simplifies the discussion about how much compensation is needed.  The impact of the development is measured in ‘biodiversity units’ (using a standard metric which has been developed by Natural England).  The offset must deliver an equivalent number of biodiversity units.
  • It is transparent.  Relevant information is open and available to all from the start of the process.
  • It allows the developer to pay an ‘offset provider’ to deliver the offset for them, and to pass on the responsibility for managing that compensation.

Benefits of offsetting for wildlife include:

  • It requires the long term management of the compensatory habitat by vetted ‘offset providers’.
  • It requires the compensatory habitat (the offset) to be located in areas where it will achieve maximum wildlife gain e.g. meeting the principles of bigger. better and joined up wildlife sites or developing a coherent and resilient ecological network.

The National Policy Context
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) states that:

109.  ‘The planning system should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment by:

  • Minimising impacts on biodiversity and providing net gains in biodiversity where possible, contributing to the Government’s commitment to halt the overall decline in biodiversity, including by establishing coherent ecological networks that are more resilient to current and future pressures’.

118.  ‘When determining planning applications, local planning authorities should aim to conserve and enhance biodiversity by applying the following principles:

  • If significant harm resulting from a development cannot be avoided (through locating on an alternative site with less harmful impacts), adequately mitigated, or, as a last resort, compensated for, then planning permission should be refused’.

Importantly, Defra has made it clear that biodiversity offsetting does NOT change existing levels of protection for biodiversity.  Decisions relating to habitats or species, subject to statutory protection under national or EU legislation, remain subject to the requirements of that legislation and current processes.  The mitigation hierarchy (referred to in para 118 above) should always be followed.  Offsets sit at the bottom of this hierarchy.  See ‘Guiding principles for biodiversity offsetting’ (Defra, 2011), as well as other guidance found on Defra’s offsetting webpages.

The Pilot
The 2011 Natural Environment White Paper announced Defra’s intention to trial an approach to biodiversity offsetting.   A two year national biodiversity offsetting pilot began in April 2012.  Devon is one of six areas taking part in this pilot.

Further information on the national pilot and Defra’s offsetting guidance can be found here.

The Devon pilot is composed of three projects, each exploring different aspects of offsetting.  Information for each project will be added to the website shortly.  Contact details are given below.


South Devon
Prioritises offset design to benefit priority habitats and two key species, the Greater Horseshoe Bat and Cirl Bunting. Illustrates that offsetting does not change existing protection and processes for protected species (Cirl Buntings) and habitats (South Hams SAC) – but that it can be used to benefit protected species.

This is the latest South Devon Biodiversity Offsetting Guidance October 2014 (with a higher resolution South Devon Biodiversity Offsetting Guidance October 2014 Map Figure 2). It has been developed in collaboration with a number of partners. It will continue to be refined in light of the most up to date evidence. Please refer back to this webpage for the latest version.

Teignbridge District Council – Jonny Miller, Green Infrastructure Officer (lead officer)
Devon County Council – Sarah Jennings, County Ecologist
Natural England – Julien Sclater, Lead Adviser, Land Use Team

The North Devon UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
Focuses on priority habitats within the Biosphere Reserve and aims to also offset for loss of the benefits provided by these habitats (ecosystem services such as flood attenuation, flood storage, access, pollution control and carbon sequestration).  Links are being made to the North Devon Nature Improvement Area.  The Strategy can be found at

North Devon Biosphere Reserve – Andy Bell, Biosphere Co-ordinator (lead officer)
Natural England – Clare Guthrie, Lead Adviser, Land Use Team


Exeter and East Devon Growth Point
Focuses on how offsetting can be used to meet the objectives of the Green Infrastructure Strategy.

East Devon District Council – Simon Bates, Green Infrastructure Project Manager (lead officer)
Natural England – Amanda Newsome, Lead Adviser, Land Use Team

Devon co-ordinator:  Sarah Jennings, County Ecologist, DCC,