Biodiversity stewardship on the ground: opportunities and realities
Author: Dr Amanda Griffith, Manager – Natural Capital Supply
From Niche’s perspective, the New South Wales Biodiversity Offsets Scheme (BOS) is an important mechanism for protecting biodiversity. Supply of credits continues to be a challenge, so getting landholders engaged with the scheme is essential to its success.
After assessing hundreds of sites across New South Wales, Niche’s advice to landholder clients is that establishing a biodiversity stewardship site can provide financial benefits. However, the path to realising those benefits may be winding and long. It is important to enter an agreement with eyes open to the realities as well as the opportunities.
Potential for long-term benefits
Niche has always taken the view that long-term conservation and protection can and must co-exist with commercial goals. We see this with biodiversity stewardship sites.
The BOS can reward landholders for restoring and conserving biodiversity on their land. Many of our clients see a double benefit: a chance to create a conservation legacy while also generating revenue.
Establishing a site also allows landholders to diversify their income stream. Since sites are established in perpetuity, this also helps shore up long-term income for the next generations.
Increasing biodiversity has also been shown to deliver benefits to agricultural systems, including improving soil quality and health, increasing pollinators, and building resilience to pests and diseases.
Importantly, Biodiversity Stewardship Agreements (BSAs) provide the opportunity to include on-farm landscape diversity and biodiversity source areas and corridors that are considered vital to sustainable agricultural practices and building farm resilience.
Appreciating the realities
As a landholder contemplating establishing a biodiversity stewardship site, it is important to understand some sites may not be suitable or financially viable. Further, even on a viable site it may take years to generate revenue.
There will be costs in establishing the site. From the time you sign a BSA, you will need to de-stock land or leave it fallow to conserve biodiversity. Effectively, you may need to ‘lock up’ the land for some time even before you sell any credits, or the site goes into management.
Revenue can be uneven at first. There is a strong need for biodiversity credits. However, demand is also uncertain, driven by interdependencies such as development approvals that will be outside your control.
The New South Wales Government, through the Credit Supply Task Force, is working with the market, offering support to landholders to help establish offset sites and to purchase credits on behalf of developers who need them. However this is not a silver bullet. It has not yet removed many of the delays and uncertainties.
A chance to invest – for purpose and for profit
We stand by our view that the BOS is an extremely important scheme. It offers a way to manage the tension between equally urgent needs: on the one hand, to support development required for energy transition and on the other, to protect biodiversity.
In our experience, landholders who establish stewardship sites can expect a financial return for their investment. Most are also motivated by the opportunity to protect and conserve the land and are extremely proud of their sites.
Setting up our farm for biodiversity credits is a great opportunity for us to help protect a diverse patch of threatened ecological communities and species on a property we adore. This will allow future generations to enjoy a uniquely diverse landscape in a world leaning towards monocultures for mass food production
As we work with landholders and help them navigate the BOS, we see the realities and some frustrations on the ground. We also see our role as engaging with government to help smooth the path to establishing stewardship sites to benefit current and future generations.
Initially, we naively went down the path of trying to set up our farm for biodiversity credits. We soon realised it is not a simple process to navigate on your own. There are upfront and ongoing requirements needed to set up tradable biodiversity credits. It requires complex technical reporting, a lot of communication with the authorities, and there are important legal and capital gains tax considerations we needed to understandOwners of ‘Journey’s End West’ biodiversity stewardship site near Hill End, NSW
- NSW Government, Biodiversity Conservation Trust. (2021) Biodiversity stewardship agreement: Landholder guide.
- Tilman D, Wedin D and Knops J. (1996) ‘Productivity and sustainability influenced by biodiversity in grassland ecosystems’, Nature, 379:718–720.
- Erisman JW, van Eekeren N, de Wit J. et al. (2016) ‘Agriculture and biodiversity: a better balance benefits both’, AIMS Agriculture and Food, 1(2):157-174
About the author
Dr Amanda Griffith is Niche’s Manager for Natural Capital Supply. She is a skilled ecologist, field biologist, ecological consultant and project manager with over 19 years’ experience in ecological consulting in NSW. Amanda is an accredited assessor under the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and has a thorough understanding of environmental legislation underpinning ecological consulting work, as well as a detailed working knowledge of the NSW and Commonwealth biodiversity offsetting schemes. Amanda cares deeply about biodiversity and our environment and is motivated by being able to influence biodiversity-positive outcomes in the development process and the long-term protection and management of our unique biodiversity.
Natural capital and offsetting
Insight: Navigating natural capital: from the boardroom to the ground
Insight: Assessing the NSW biodiversity offsets scheme: A failed market or firm foundation for intergenerational conservation?
Expertise: Natural capital and offsetting services
Project: Inland Rail Biodiversity Offset ID Program