Nature conservation

Biodiversity Reform

BioBanking saves Downes family farm at Brownlow Hill

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.

BioBanking provides income for the family to keep the property while protecting endangered Cumberland Plain Woodland.

Fourteen years ago, Edgar and Lynne Downes and their family faced a major decision. Concerned about the impact of coal seam gas mining on their property near Camden, their only option seemed to be placing a heritage order on much of the 1000-hectare site which had been in the family since 1875. Unfortunately, this would have impacted enormously on any future plans to subdivide.

At the same time, the income from the dairy, the mainstay of the property for over 100 years, was becoming unsustainable. As a result, the family decided land conservation could be a means of securing the property's financial viability.

In 2009, the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) asked the Downes to participate in a trial to help establish procedures and protocols for a market-based biobanking scheme.

"As a source of income that would help us preserve the property, this scheme ticked all the boxes," says Edgar.

In 2010, the Downes and OEH established a 23-hectare biobank site on the southern part of the property which is dominated by critically endangered Cumberland Plain Woodland.

The Downes easily sold the biodiversity credits allocated to the site. The money they raised from the 246 credits generated under the scheme funded OEH-stipulated works on the biobank site and provided compensation for preserving the land in perpetuity.

"I traded the credits on the open market and found two buyers within five months," Edgar says.

In 2012, the Downes registered a second biobank site in the same area - this time spanning 50 hectares - which generated 504 biodiversity credits.

The hilly shallow soil that covers half the property contains endangered Cumberland Plain Woodland and is unsuitable for grazing, while the river flats on the other half comprise good farming land.

Edgar is currently having another 20-hectare area assessed for its suitability as a biobank site - a project he refers to as 'stage 3'.

BioBanking has completely transformed the way Edgar views his land. "Until BioBanking started, we'd tended to bulldoze both native and exotic species to encourage introduced, high-nutrition grasses such as paspalum and kikuyu to grow and provide sustenance for our cattle.

"However, BioBanking has turned our focus to bushland regeneration," he says. "It's quite a change, but it's one I'm comfortable with."

The BioBanking Scheme has enabled Edgar to keep Brownlow Hill for his family while continuing to use the farm for multiple purposes, including grazing cattle and holding concerts. "I have a daughter who runs music festivals out here, so the farm remains very important to the younger generation," he says.

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