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New South Wales has just introduced a voluntary Biobanking scheme through parliament. The legislation allows developers who meet avoid-minimise-offset requirements to compensate unavoidable residual impacts through investment in a market-driven credit scheme for biodiversity.
The scheme, which mirrors similar programs in Victoria (Australia) and also South Africa, the US and increasingly worldwide, augments a more traditional form of biodiversity management based largely on qualitative measures of habitat importance and threatened species. As with many such schemes, it was open to costly legal challenge and offered little certainty for developers. The outcomes were often inconsistent and resulted in legal debate and court cases. For instance, in one example, a developer was required to sieve tonnes of soil to establish whether the seeds of a threatened plant were present. In another case, just one tree was enough to prove the presence of a threatened community (read the full article by Judith Rawlings). There are countless examples in the media.
"MELBOURNE might have the race that stops a nation but Sydney has the frog that stops almost everything" 8 July 2008 Daily Telegraph
Arguably, money could be better spent invested in real biodiversity outcomes in habitat that is substantial enough to maintain viable populations.
Biobanking is an alternative approach that "improves or maintains " biodiversity and recognises the principles of biodiversity that now underpin regulatory instruments in New South Wales.
The principles are:
- Biodiversity encompasses structure, function and composition of ecological communities at site, regional, state and national scales.
- Examples of all ecological communities are managed for biodiversity conservation. Assess sites relative to priorities at broader scales.
- Enhance long term viability of ecological communities. Assess sites according to their viability.
- (For more on biodiversity, see EIANZ ecology Position Statement on Biodiversity).
Biobanking better guarantees the protection of rare remnants and ensures that investment in offset / compensation is used to create measurable outcomes in areas where the effort will not be wasted. The measurement of biodiversity is based on the Biometric system.
Because biodiversity is defined in holistic terms, rather than just threatened species, the focus is on the landscape and focuses on ecosystem integrity. The method has been structured to have maximum benefit for the range of species and measurement parameters include such things as site condition, connectivity, regional, state and national conservation priorities and threatened species, populations and communities .
The scheme works thus:
- With limited exceptions , high biodiversity value communities cannot be developed if viable (red flag).
- Elsewhere, unavoidable losses in biodiversity from development can be offset.
In conclusion, Biobanking is a model for how the world is moving towards meeting its biodiversity management obligations and has considerable benefits over more traditional and quite subjective methods of assigning 'value' to the environment. Most importantly:
- it assesses biodiversity at the landscape scale
- it re-emphasises and supports active and purposeful management
- it improves the viability of ecological communities
- it improves certainty in the planning process and redirects resources towards biodiversity rather than to expensive court cases
Biobanking in New South Wales
EIANZ Ecology Biodiversity Management Discussion Paper
EIANZ Ecology Biodiversity Bibliography
Biodiversity Offsets Guidelines South Africa
Business Biodiversity Offsets Program (BBOP)