Biodiversity offsets are conservation measures designed to remedy the residual negative impacts of development on biodiversity and ecological infrastructure, once the first three groups of measures in the mitigation sequence have been adequately and explicitly considered (i.e. to avoid, minimize and rehabilitate/ restore impacts). Offsets are the last resort form of mitigation, only to be implemented if nothing else can mitigate the impact (DEA: GN 276, 2017). “In some cases, following avoidance and mitigation, there is still residual damage to biodiversity as a result of a development. In such cases, if the development is socially and economically sustainable, ecological sustainability may be achieved through a biodiversity offset. A biodiversity offset involves setting aside land in the same or a similar ecosystem elsewhere, at the cost of the applicant, to ensure no net loss of important biodiversity. Biodiversity offsets are particularly important in securing threatened ecosystems and critical biodiversity areas. They are already being implemented to some extent in South Africa, but in the absence of a legal or policy framework and thus with little consistency. Systematic application of biodiversity offsets could provide significant benefits at little cost to the fiscus” (National Biodiversity Framework (NBF), 2009).
In terms of wetland offsets, if the calculated hectare equivalents (Ha equiv.) of functional wetland area in a post-rehabilitation state of an activity is less than that calculated for the pre-development scenario a loss of biodiversity is evident and offset may be required. To theoretically calculate the required quantity of direct wetland area and functional ha equiv. that will need to be offset to compensate for the residual loss of biodiversity in the post-rehabilitation state, the ecosystem conservation, Species of Conservation Concern (SCC) and functional wetland area (ha equiv.) offset targets must be calculated using the appropriate methodology. These must be calculated by a suitably qualified and professionally South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP) registered natural scientist in the relevant field, whom has experience conducting wetland assessments within the specific region.
Once these theoretical results have been calculated, stakeholder engagement meetings must be convened to discuss the realistic offset targets that can be achieved within the specific catchment area and society. Important role players that must be consulted include, but are not limited to; catchment management agency, regional environmental authority, Department of Water Affairs (DWS), Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), landowners, surrounding community leaders and members and other stakeholders that may be affected by the biodiversity offset process. Once the offset targets have been confirmed with the relevant stakeholders, the usually lengthy formal land acquisition process may begin.
The offset sites will need to be secured through a legal mechanism such as a Biodiversity Management Agreement and conservation servitudes that obliges the landowner to maintain the offset sites in the desired wetland offset state for a duration of at least 30years (DWS & SANBI, 2016). As per the Draft National Biodiversity Offset Policy (DEA, 2017), NEMA (Act no. 107 of 1998) and the MPRDA (Act no. 28 of 2002) (if applicable), legal and financial provision must be in place to ensure that the offset sites are legally protected and effectively managed to maintain their value as an offset. The ideal scenario will be that the offset sites receive statutory protection using mechanism such as the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act (Act no. 57 of 2003), Section 12 of the NWA (Act no. 36 of 1998) and/or Section 49 of the MPRDA (Act no. 28 of 2002). This must be stipulated within the closure plan relevant to the proposed development (DWS & SANBI, 2016).
The above is a brief explanation of the biodiversity offset process that is typically followed during the formulation of a detailed offset programme for a specific site. However, the framework followed and stakeholders involved will differ from project-to-project, and thus an adaptive approach must be adopted for each project. ENVASS has the knowledge and experience to implement these multifaceted projects within a structured and cost-efficient framework, which ultimately results in the desired offset ratios and client expectations being met. For more information on biodiversity offsets please do not hesitate to contact ENVASS on 012 460 9768, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you!