The Privatisation of Biodiversity?

Published on 1 September 2018

Professor Colin Reid has completed a project which looked at legal issues surrounding potential new strategies for the conservation of biodiversity.

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By 2010, the UK had failed to meet its target of halting biodiversity loss. This continuing loss, despite the volume of law and policy designed to prevent it, suggested that it may be time for a reconsideration of how we go about the task of conserving biodiversity for our own and future generations.

The driving force was the fact that nature conservation law just wasn’t achieving results. We were still losing biodiversity.

At this time, there was scope to introduce a wider range of mechanisms to support conservation, making greater use of private sector initiative and resources and introducing elements of a market approach.

Such mechanisms include:

  • Biodiversity offsetting – development causing a loss to biodiversity in one place is allowed to go ahead so long as ecological gains are achieved elsewhere, similar to carbon offsetting.
  • Payment for ecosystem service – land managers receive payments to reflect the benefits that their land is providing to the wider community. For example, it could provide a habitat for pollinating insects. 
  • Conservation covenants – landowners make long term agreements that they are not going to develop the land and will look after the conservation.

There was the thought to look around for alternatives. And there was the example of carbon offsetting, carbon trading and so on.

When you think about it in terms of biodiversity, the challenge is that nature is just so completely different. We needed to show that there may be potential, but we can’t just go ahead and do it. You have to think about what the differences and challenges are.

In England and Wales there was a big investigation into this by the Law Commission.  I was involved in various meetings with them providing submissions on the consultation paper. That led to a Law Commission report and during that process, it looked as if there was going to be legislation on that fairly imminently, but the key minister left [and things halted].

Challenges during the project

One of the biggest challenges during my research was that the Home Office wrongfully refused my research assistant a visa. We had to dismiss him after six weeks because his employment was temporary pending a decision. Once a decision had been taken, it took several weeks before he could apply again (and he got it).

Also, towards the end of the project we had a big conference and I was on the REF panel. So we couldn’t go straight into writing up our research.

My research assistant got another job at another university. This was perfect timing for him, but it meant I ended up writing eight of the nine chapters for the book myself, rather than it being more even.

The impact

We have to get the details right...the policy is meant to be that there are some things that just have to be absolutely protected. 

Unless you do something different, nature would keep losing.

The DEFRA 25-year plan has conservation covenants back in it. They are going to re-examine them as one of the ways of securing long term protection for the countryside as part of the post-Brexit new environment rural policy.


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Story category Research