Biodiversity offsets are conservation activities that are designed to give biodiversity benefits to compensate for losses - ensuring that when a development damages nature (and this damage cannot be avoided) new, bigger or better nature sites will be created.
They are different from other types of ecological compensation as they need to show measurable outcomes that are sustained over time. The Government ran six two year pilot projects from 2012 on the biodiversity offsetting approach but have not yet published a report into their findings. A Green Paper consultation on options for biodiversity offsetting ran in late 2013, the results of this have not yet been published.
Biodiversity offsetting has been used as a voluntary and informal tool within the planning system for some time.
The more recent usage refers more specifically to the National Planning Policy Framework and the mitigation hierarchy. The mitigation hierarchy is Paragraph 175, and biodiversity offsetting is the compensation referred to:
"if significant harm resulting from a development cannot be avoided (through locating on an alternative site with less harmful impacts), adequately mitigated, or, as a last resort, compensated for, then planning permission should be refused;"
The compulsory approach suggested in the paragraph above is set to be introduced through the enactment of the Environment Bill which will require development to achieve net gains for biodiversity. More information on this approach can be found here.