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Exploring the risks and benefits of flexibility in biodiversity offset location in a case study of migratory shorebirds
 

Shumway N, Saunders MI, Nicol S, Fuller RA, Ben-Moshe N, Iwamura T, Kim SW, Murray NJ, Watson JEM & Maron M (2023) Exploring the risks and benefits of flexibility in biodiversity offset location in a case study of migratory shorebirds. Conservation Biology, 37, e14031.

Biodiversity offsets aim to counterbalance the residual impacts of development on species and ecosystems. Guidance documents explicitly recommend that biodiversity offset actions be located close to the location of impact because of higher potential for similar ecological conditions, but allowing greater spatial flexibility has been proposed. We examined the circumstances under which offsets distant from the impact location could be more likely to achieve no net loss or provide better ecological outcomes than offsets close to the impact area. We applied a graphical model for migratory shorebirds in the East Asian–Australasian Flyway as a case study to explore the problems that arise when incorporating spatial flexibility into offset planning. Spatially flexible offsets may alleviate impacts more effectively than local offsets; however, the risks involved can be substantial. For our case study, there were inadequate data to make robust conclusions about the effectiveness and equivalence of distant habitat-based offsets for migratory shorebirds. Decisions around offset placement should be driven by the potential to achieve equivalent ecological outcomes; however, when considering more distant offsets, there is a need to evaluate the likely increased risks alongside the potential benefits. Although spatially flexible offsets have the potential to provide more cost-effective biodiversity outcomes and more cobenefits, our case study showed the difficulty of demonstrating these benefits in practice and the potential risks that need to be considered to ensure effective offset placement.

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