When is an offset not an offset? A framework of necessary conditions for biodiversity offsets

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Environmental Management




School of Science




Pope, J., Morrison-Saunders, A., Bond, A., & Retief, F. (2021). When is an offset not an offset? A framework of necessary conditions for biodiversity offsets. Environmental Management, 67(2), 424-435. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-020-01415-0


© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC part of Springer Nature. Biodiversity offsets have become a widely accepted means of attempting to compensate for biodiversity loss from development, and are applied in planning and decision-making processes at many levels. Yet their use is contentious, and numerous problems with both the concept and the practice have been identified in the literature. Our starting point is the understanding that offsets are a kind of biodiversity compensation measure through which the goal of no net loss (or net gain) of biodiversity can be at least theoretically achieved. Based on a typology of compensation measures distinguishing between habitat protection, improvement (including restoration, habitat creation and improved management practices) and other compensation, we review the literature to develop a framework of conditions that must be met if habitat protection and improvement initiatives can be truly considered offsets and not merely a lesser form of compensation. It is important that such conceptual clarity is reflected in offset policy and guidance, if offsets are to be appropriately applied and to have any chance of fully compensating for biodiversity loss. Our framework can be used to support the review and ongoing development of biodiversity offset policy and guidance, with the aim of improving clarity, rigour and therefore the chances that good biodiversity outcomes can be achieved.



Access Rights


Research Themes

Natural and Built Environments

Priority Areas

Environmental management, governance and policy