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Securing the ‘value of nature’? Biodiversity offsetting in England and the implications for conservation policy at home and abroad

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Policy and business rhetoric over the need to ‘value’ nature has animated recent efforts by the UK Government to introduce mechanisms for biodiversity offsetting (BDO) into English land planning systems. Biodiversity offsetting was officially trialled in England by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) through a 2-year pilot study between 2012-2014. While it was unfeasible for Government to adopt the approach formally, BDO has continued to proliferate across numerous local government and commercial contexts in a semi-voluntary, largely un-regulated capacity.

Biodiversity offsetting seeks compensation for habitat loss associated with infrastructure and residential development through securing gains for losses ‘in a measurable way’. As such BDO is frequently positioned as a win-win solution that reconciles economic development and conservation through delivering the ‘no net loss’ of biodiversity ‘values’. Drawing from a 30-month fieldwork engagement with the English BDO government pilot study, this paper investigates the processes that performatively shape the ‘value of nature’ through a valuation technology such as biodiversity offsetting. It will discuss the various implications of the approach for conservation policy and science as well as critically reflecting on the discourse around win-wins in conservation policy, forecast through this nascent move towards ‘valuing’ biodiversity.

This talk is part of the Political Ecology Group meetings series.

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