European Wilderness Society

Fighting Habitat Loss

Habitat loss is one of the biggest problems for many European plant and animal species. Habitat loss is the destruction of a natural area which supports a native species. Such natural areas are often seen by society or rather by the economy as useless areas; this is why they are often used to build infrastructure or used as agricultural land. However, the planet can only take so much of economically used land.

In Austria, for example, over the past ten years, 24 soccer fields have been used daily for construction and human needs, according to the Austrian Ministry of Environment. This is a big area which could be used otherwise, for example for preserving natural habitats.

New Law in England

England is also facing a similar problem: A lot of constructions and new developments are being done every day. The new environmental policy, namely biodiversity net gain, is trying to work against this and reduce habitat loss.

What exactly does biodiversity net gain imply?
Biodiversity net gain means that with every new development, a 10% net gain in biodiversity has to be achieved and maintained for at least 30 years. This is a very ambitious new policy; in practice it means that there must be more natural habitat after the development than there was before. The land is measured in units, based on habitat size, type and ecological condition. So, before the construction starts, the land has to be measured. It is then calculated how many units of new or of the same habitat there should be after the work is completed. 10 % net gain means that there needs to be at least 10 % more units after the construction than there were before.

How though?

This is a very ambitious policy and in theory it should help increase habitats. However, it does pose some questions. How exactly is it going to be monitored? In order to control construction sites and not let developers off easily, areas need to be monitored and controlled. This requires a lot of effort and resources.

Another question is related to the quality of habitats. A habitat that has evolved naturally and supports various species, might not be the same as one that was constructed and/or moved artificially. This also depends on the surroundings and conditions of areas. Moving biodiversity and native animal and plant species is not as easy as it sounds and, in fact, these things should be kept local to their particular habitats.
Moreover, research has shown that such a policy allows smaller but more qualitative habitats to be exchanged for larger ones with poorer quality.

Additionally, if there is not enough space on the construction site to include these 10% net gain, there is the possibility of purchasing areas off-site to introduce new habitats. This again raises the question of the ease of moving an entire habitat with all its inhabitants. In theory, this option should incite a focus on recovery projects, but it might look very different in practice.

Lastly, the question of the measurement is also seen as concern by scientists. Such a measurement does not take insect populations sufficiently into account, for example. The units may not take into account all species in the same way and not all habitats are looked at individually.

Conclusion

All in all, the new policy in England is a good start to address habitat loss issues and it should be recognised as such, even though there are still some issues and concerns. Habitat loss does not only affect animals and plants; it can also affect humans, especially when it implies the loss of green spaces in an area. This leads to higher temperatures because of less heat absorption.

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