I've been approached to place my land into a biodiversity offsetting scheme. Should I?
I've been involved with biodiversity and habitat offsetting since early 2018, designing schemes, ecological surveys, drawing up management plans, costing projects, and on the ground delivery. Should you get involved?
Well, it depends on your specific situation. Net gain will be a legal requirement for house builders and development, developers later this year with a requirement to deliver, or pay to deliver, an uplift in biodiversity of 10% over land loss to development. There are many schemes available all running slightly differently, though as rollout and extension continue this should standardise, to an extent. You will be effectively losing control of your land placed into offsetting for a minimum of 30 years so if you don't get it right from the start, you may regret it. In my experience, the initial payment to create habitat, such as tree planting or meadow creation has been reasonable, but the ‘management’ payment for the next 30 years hasn't been sufficient to make it worthwhile, especially when considering the inflationary value of the pound over that period.
Habitat type also seems to be skewed towards wildflower meadow creation as that provides the greatest uplift in biodiversity units bracket (BU) in the shortest timeframe. The BU uplift will also depend on the existing habitat quality, so the poorer the land for biodiversity is, the better. Arable fields conventionally farmed in short rotations are likely to offer the highest uplift as they will tend to be most biodiversity poor.
The highest uplift in BU delivery comes from Bramble scrub, which even with the highest ‘rose-tint factor’ applied to the glasses, will never look pretty, so careful placement of options is likely to be critical.
Other simpler schemes are available. I work closely with an organisation creating habitat for great crested newts, where the habitat is created at no cost to the landowner and an annual payment for land taken out of production is paid on an agreement, renewable every five years.
The inheritance tax implications for land taken out of farming on these long-term agreements aren't particularly clear, so take independent advice.
In my experience net gain can work well for small areas of larger farms and estates, especially when using fields on the urban fringe, but tread cautiously if considering larger proportions of your holding. Things are changing and offers are being improved all the time, but I think a portfolio of ‘alternative’ income streams will work better for most landowners with less risk than placing all your eggs in one basket, no matter how attractive the offer may be.