More than 100 environmental organisations have released a joint statement calling for a halt to biodiversity offsetting.
The statement, titled “No to biodiversity offsetting” and signed by 140 environmental groups, was launched in a counter forum at the opening of the World Forum on Natural Capital in Edinburgh on 21 November.
The UK government launched a public consultation in September on biodiversity offsetting , the practice of replacing habitats lost to development in one area with nature somewhere else.
DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson said biodiversity offsetting was an “exciting opportunity” for farmers and landowners to create or restore wildlife habitats to improve the environment and boost the rural economy.
The statement, signed by groups including Friends of the Earth, Save our Woods (UK), and the US Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, expressed concern that offsetting could erode the power of environmental laws to restrict damaging activities.
The group accused the UK government of promoting biodiversity offsetting as an excuse to speed up planning laws and remove “green tape”.
The statement said: “Offsetting treats nature such as forests or rivers as if it were an exchangeable item you buy in the supermarket.
“Destroying one forest or river with a promise of protecting another fails to recognise that they are part of a wider ecosystem and intrinsic to human and cultural landscapes.
“Destruction of complex and site-specific biodiversity cannot be offset. It is time to be clear that offsetting will not tackle biodiversity loss, but may impoverish communities.”
However, the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) said the statement had “completely missed the point”.
The CLA said the group of 140 organisations had failed to recognise that plans for biodiversity offsetting were not a licence to “destroy nature”.
CLA president Henry Robinson said: “These groups appear to misunderstand the principle of biodiversity offsetting, believing it will give carte blanche to developers to damage the environment in one place as long as they improve it in another – this is incorrect.
“Biodiversity offsetting will not circumvent the planning laws. Developers are obliged to go through the full planning process, demonstrating that they have taken every step to avoid environmental damage and, where that is not possible, mitigated it.
“Then, and only then, will developers be able to consider offsetting any environmental damage caused.”