The claim is made in a detailed study by Oxford University published last Thursday (14 October).

In a further report commissioned by DEFRA, ‘Making Space for Nature’ by Sir John Lawton, the importance of arresting biodiversity loss for future economic prosperity was highlighted and concluded that the real cost of stopping biodiversity loss could be vastly underestimated.

Yet, according to the Environment Bank, reports and recommendations ignore the one sector whose involvement could make a difference – property developers.

Professor David Hill of the Environment Bank evaluated a number of biodiversity studies for the Oxford report and believes the forecast costs to fund many of them are too low.

For example, the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, Professor Hill claims, has a funding gap of around £980 million per year owing to a shortfall in public expenditure and the Plan recently expanding from 43 to 65 habitats and around 350 to over 1,150 species.

However, Professor Hill believes one sector in particular may be consistently overlooked when it comes to managing the cost of biodiversity conservation: property developers.

The report explains that because biodiversity is currently zero-costed in land development plans; because it has no price, it has no value.

As such, the Environment Bank’s conservation credits scheme – currently under consideration -would require developers to purchase credits to offset impacts caused by land lost to development.

“Just paying for biodiversity when the times are good is incredibly bad business management,” said the professor.

“We need investment in biodiversity for future generations if we are to avoid a catastrophic failure of our life support mechanisms and so we have set up a conservation credit scheme to provide a way.”

The concept of offsets is currently being tested by the Environment Bank and NGO partners and landowners in a 1,000-square mile pilot scheme in the Thames Headwaters. It involves local authorities, three wildlife trusts and a national conservation NGO.

Professor Hill added: “In times of austerity and a shrinking contribution from the public sector, this private sector money would be used to fund biodiversity at a large scale and could be extended to pay for landscape conservation and other ecosystem services.”

Sam Plester

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