Nature conservation

Biodiversity Reform

BioBanking creates a safe haven on the NSW south coast

The Biodiversity Offsets Scheme under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 commenced on 25 August 2017 visit Biodiversity Offset Scheme.

The information on this page only remains relevant for savings and transitional arrangements under former legislation and policy. Visit Biodiversity Offset Scheme Transitional Arrangements for more information.

Shoalhaven City Council funds preservation while allaying community concerns

Like many local governments, Shoalhaven City Council needed funds to protect the natural areas it manages.

While the council was aware of the NSW Government's BioBanking Scheme, it saw the scheme as more of a private sector opportunity according to Elizabeth Dixon, Senior Environmental Planner, Shoalhaven City Council.

The council was concerned about the initial outlay for assessing the suitability of an area as a biobanking site, even though it acknowledged the ability to recoup this cost through the sale of biodiversity credits.

In addition, some of the community were opposed to using public land to offset biodiversity loss due to private development.

A NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) program called Linking Landscapes through Local Action was able to address these concerns.

Under this three-year program, OEH agreed to pay a consultant to do the biobanking assessment and buy the biobanking credits for a competitive price, rather than expect the council to sell them on the open market.

These credits were then 'retired' by OEH so that they were not used to offset the negative environmental impact of development. This paved the way for Shoalhaven City Council to participate in the program with the full support of its community.

"We were very interested in obtaining extra funds to better manage natural areas for conservation for our community," said Elizabeth. "We have a very small internal budget for environmental management and we dedicate this largely to coastal erosion works, controlling noxious weeds and maintaining access trails."

OEH and Shoalhaven City Council agreed to implement biobanking on a 68-hectare site named Garrad Reserve, in Narrawallee.

The site includes five endangered vegetation assemblages: Bangalay Sand Forest, Swamp Sclerophyll Forest, Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest, Coastal Saltmarsh and Illawarra Lowland Grassy Woodland and is part of a regional corridor linking Narrawallee Nature Reserve in the north and Meroo National Park in the south.

Shoalhaven City Council established the biobank site in May 2013 and generated 446 ecosystem biodiversity credits, all of which OEH acquired for about $800,000. OEH retired the credits and deposited the funds into the BioBanking Trust Fund, which provided the council with an initial management payment of $140,000.

The Trust Fund provides indexed payments of about $24,000 per year in perpetuity to enable the council to continue managing the area for its conservation values.

"We've installed most of the fencing and an access path that allows locals to visit a popular fishing spot without trampling over the endangered vegetation," says Elizabeth.

"We've upgraded tracks within the area and installed boardwalks because there are some swampy areas we don't want people to stray into."

"And we've also developed 10 large signs to educate people who visit the area about its Aboriginal and European heritage and inform them about the ecological values of the site."

For Elizabeth, funding and long-term planning are the great benefits of the BioBanking Scheme. "The process involves developing a Total Fund Deposit Worksheet to manage an ongoing program of maintenance and capital works for the biobanked area," she says. "Each year you know what you have to do and how much it'll cost and the BioBanking Trust Fund pays for that."

In the future, Shoalhaven City Council plans to assess the fauna in the reserve and decide how to involve the local community in monitoring and protecting them. This will also allow the council to consider generating species biodiversity credits to fund these measures.

Elizabeth believes participating in the Biobanking Scheme is "really worthwhile for council", but cautions that each council needs to negotiate with its local communities about whether selling credits to offset the removal of habitats for development is an option.

"We're in the process of doing biobanking assessments for two other parcels of public land. Once we've completed this, we'll go back to our community to ask them how they feel about us selling biodiversity credits on the open market to fund conservation of the sites," she says.

"I'd say to other councils that the biobanking land assessment process itself is beneficial, because it allows you to treat that land as an asset that can potentially be maintained in perpetuity with a properly costed maintenance budget."

How the NSW BioBanking Scheme works

When a landowner enters into a biobanking agreement for part of their land, the land becomes a biobank site. The biobanking agreement is permanently attached to the land title and includes provisions that require current and future landowners to carry out management actions to improve the condition of the native vegetation and habitats on the site.

Entering into a biobanking agreement creates biodiversity credits, which can be sold by the landowner. An individual or corporation may purchase credits to offset adverse impacts on biodiversity caused by a development. Governments and philanthropic organisations may also purchase credits for conservation purposes. When a landowner sells their credits, a specified minimum amount from the sale proceeds (an amount known as the Total Fund Deposit) is paid into the BioBanking Trust Fund.

Annual payments to fund the management of the biobank site are then made to the landowner from the Trust Fund in perpetuity. Once the Total Fund Deposit has been paid the proceeds of all subsequent credit sales are returned to the landowner as profit. Any profit payments may be used by the landowner to recover the costs of setting up the biobanking agreement and any lost opportunity costs associated  from entering into the agreement.

Visit Biobanking for more information.

Page last updated: 28 August 2017