Nature conservation

Biodiversity Reform

Biodiversity offsets scheme: assessor questions answered

Read the answers to some common questions about the biodiversity offsets scheme (BOS) and the Biodiversity Assessment Method (BAM).

If your questions are not answered or you need more information, visit Biodiversity Offsets Scheme support or call 131 555.

Triggering the biodiversity offsets scheme threshold

How is the area of clearing calculated when deciding if the biodiversity offsets scheme threshold is triggered?

The Biodiversity Values Map and Threshold Tool and Biodiversity Values Map Threshold Tool User Guide (PDF 1.6MB) explain how to measure the clearing footprint to determine whether the biodiversity offsets scheme threshold will be triggered. 

For subdivision development applications, how is the area of clearing calculated?

When applying the area clearing threshold, subdivision development applications need to consider the total area of native vegetation that is likely to be cleared after the land has been subdivided.

The Biodiversity Values Map and Threshold Tool and Biodiversity Values Map Threshold Tool User Guide (PDF 1.6MB) explain how to measure the clearing footprint to determine whether the biodiversity offsets scheme threshold will be triggered. 

When the actual lot size is smaller than the minimum lot size, is the actual or minimum lot size used to calculate whether the area clearing threshold has been triggered?

The minimum lot size is used for the calculation. Note that the threshold determines the pathway for approval and is not an approval to clear. 

When a lot covers more than one zone and has different minimum lot sizes, which lot size is used to calculate whether the area clearing threshold has been triggered?

The smallest minimum lot size is used to calculate whether the area clearing threshold has been triggered.

When there is no minimum lot size, what is the clearing threshold based on?

If there is no minimum lot size the clearing threshold will be based on the smallest actual lot size associated with the development.

How is clause 7.3(4) of the Biodiversity Conservation Regulation 2017 applied in deciding whether the biodiversity offsets scheme threshold is triggered?

Under clause 7.3(4) of the Biodiversity Conservation Regulation 2017, the Biodiversity Values Map (BV Map) does not trigger entry into the biodiversity offsets scheme if the proposed development (other than a subdivision) will occur on a lot that was the result of a subdivision carried out before the commencement of the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 within land zoned R1 to R4, RU5, B1 to B8 or IN1 to IN3. However, the other elements of the biodiversity offsets scheme threshold must still be considered in deciding if the proposed development will trigger the biodiversity offsets scheme.

Clause 7.3(4) applies in circumstances where subdivision approval has been granted on land within the nominated zones and the purpose of the approved subdivision has not yet been realised. Councils will confirm if a subdivision approval has been granted in an appropriate zone and if the purpose of the subdivision has not yet been realised. Council will also confirm that a proposed development is consistent with the purpose of the approved and unrealised subdivision.

Clause 7.3(4) is not to be applied when deciding if the BV Map applies under the Vegetation SEPP (clause 4(1)).

Is the asset protection zone included in the area to be cleared when deciding if the biodiversity offsets scheme threshold is triggered?

The area of impact needs to be calculated for the whole development including any asset protection zones required by the Rural Fire Service. The Rural Fire Service has guidelines for deciding if an asset protection zone is needed and the minimum size, and which approvals are required. For more information read the Standards for Asset Protection Zones .

How are biodiversity impacts assessed if the biodiversity offsets scheme is not triggered?

The development application will be assessed in accordance with standard procedures under section 4.15 (previously section 79C) of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act). The EP&A Act requires consideration of the likely impacts of a development, including the environmental impacts on the natural environment when evaluating a development application.

If the biodiversity offset scheme is not triggered by the area threshold or the BV Map, a test of significance should be prepared in accordance with section 7.3 of the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and the Threatened Species Test of Significance Guidelines (PDF 195KB). This test will form part of the documentation that accompanies a development application.

The development application should also include evidence that the biodiversity offsets scheme entry thresholds have not been triggered.

Is a Biodiversity Development Assessment Report (BDAR) required if a property is on the BV Map, but the development does not impact the mapped area?

A BDAR is required for any development proposal that will clear native vegetation within an area on the BV Map or if the development will have a prescribed impact on biodiversity values under clause 6.1 of the Biodiversity Conservation Regulation 2017.

The BAM must be used to assess is re the entire development,  even if only part of the development site is on the BV map.

If the biodiversity offset scheme is not triggered by the area threshold or the BV Map, a test of significance should be prepared in accordance with section 7.3 of the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and the Threatened Species Test of Significance Guidelines (PDF 195KB). The outcome of this test will determine whether a BDAR is required.

Is a BDAR required in grasslands with a mix of native and exotic species?

If a BDAR is required for the development, the BAM must be applied to all vegetation that is native to NSW. This includes circumstances where the only native vegetation on all or part of the development site is grasslands containing a mix of native and exotic species. If the native vegetation being assessed does not exactly conform to a Plant Community Type (PCT), you should choose the best-fit PCT based on the native species mix and surrounding vegetation. For more information, refer to section 5.2 BAM and page 13 and 31 of the BAM Operation Manual – Stage 1 (PDF 1.3MB).

The BAM does not need to be applied to areas that have 100% exotic cover, unless the vegetation is providing habitat or resources for threatened species. In this case, the impact on threatened species habitat that is non-native vegetation must be assessed as a prescribed impact under clause 6.1 of the Biodiversity Conservation Regulation 2017. 

Important areas

What is an important area?

For a small number of species, the habitat constraint information in the threatened biodiversity data collection (TBDC) refers to a mapped location (paragraph 6.3.1.4 Biodiversity Assessment Method (BAM) (PDF 1.19). Mapped locations identify areas that are considered important for the species, e.g. breeding areas or important foraging/over-wintering areas. These species are dual credit species assessed for both species and ecosystem credits.

No further survey is required if the subject land is in a mapped location for a species unless the species profile in the TBDC states otherwise. The species is considered present and the part of the subject land that is within the mapped location forms the species polygon used to generate species credits (section 6.4 BAM (PDF 1.19MB)). Any remaining habitat on the subject land, e.g. foraging, unmapped locations used by these species is assessed for ecosystem credits.

Which species are assessed using important areas?

Important areas have been identified for:

  • regent honeyeater (breeding habitat),
  • swift parrot (important migratory foraging habitat)
  • breeding and foraging habitat for the plains wanderer and threatened shorebirds (sanderling, curlew sandpiper, great knot, greater sand-plover, lesser sand-plover, broad-billed sandpiper, black-tailed godwit, terek sandpiper, eastern curlew, red knot, bar-tailed godwit, beach stone-curlew, little tern, hooded plover).

Maps showing important areas for regent honeyeater, swift parrot, plains wanderer and shorebirds are being developed. Visit Biodiversity Offsets Scheme support with your shapefile or lot/DP number if you are interested in a specific area.

How does the important area relate to a potential serious and irreversible impact?

If the species is at risk of a serious and irreversible impact (SAII), the area mapped as important is the area identified as a potential SAII and you will need to address section 10.2 BAM (PDF 1.19MB).

How does the important area relate to a biodiversity stewardship agreement (BSA)?

Species credits for species that are assessed using the important area can only be created for a BSA on land that is mapped as an important area.

Assessing vegetation

Can I use local benchmarks when assessing vegetation?

You can use more appropriate local benchmarks if you can justify this decision and receive written permission from the consent authority (read Appendix 5 Biodiversity Assessment Method (BAM) (PDF 1.19MB) for more information). It is recommended that you discuss the intention to use local data with the consent authority early in the process.

Local benchmarks should not be used for derived vegetation communities as they have been influenced by human disturbance.

How do I assess vegetation condition in extreme weather events like a drought?

The use of local benchmarks can be proposed if default benchmarks do not accurately reflect the local environmental conditions, seasonal variations and/or climatic variations in benchmark values.

The process for assessing vegetation condition in poor seasonal conditions is set out in section 2.2.2 and Appendix 5 of the BAM and the BAM Operational Manual – Stage 1  (PDF 1.3MB) (pages 31-32).

You must seek approval from the consent authority to use benchmark data from local reference sites and you will need to provide evidence that using this data is more appropriate. 

How do I determine if a plant community type is a threatened ecological community?

The BioNet Vegetation Classification provides information about whether a plant community type (PTC) may also be a threatened ecological community (TEC).  However, this list is not exhaustive. As part of the on-ground survey and assessment, you must determine whether any of the vegetation meets the definition of a TEC listed under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 by comparing the PCT description with the relevant Final Determination published by the NSW Threatened Species Scientific Committee. Additional identification guidance is available for some TECs. For example, Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest of the New South Wales North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner Bioregions.

The BAM Operational Manual – Stage 1 (PDF 1.3MB) provides more information.

Can past surveys replace field work?

Field surveys, including targeted surveys for threatened species, can be used in place of onsite survey if the date when the survey was carried out is  less than five years old and meets the requirements set out in the BAM and the Operational Manual – Stage 1 (PDF 1.3MB).

Time limitations are imposed to ensure data used in assessments reflects the current biodiversity values of the subject land.

How do I assess very small, linear or fragmented areas of vegetation?

Where a standard plot does not fit into a vegetation zone, a longer and narrower (e.g. 10 m x 100 m = 0.1 ha) or wider and shorter (e.g. 25 m x 40 m = 0.1 ha) plot can be used. Plots should be a minimum of 10 m wide.

If multiple discontinuous areas of vegetation are used to form one vegetation zone, plots must be evenly distributed across the areas. If size is restrictive,  at least one plot should be placed in each separate area.

How do I treat native vegetation that is outside its natural occurrence, including planted vegetation?

The definition of native vegetation means that all plants that are native to NSW must be assessed in accordance with the BAM (PDF 1.19MB), even if they are not indigenous to the local area. This includes planted native vegetation, such as windbreaks, street trees and planted native gardens.

If a threatened species is located outside of its recorded natural range and is likely to have been planted, contact your local Department of Planning, Industry and Environment office for advice.

Serious and irreversible impacts

What is a serious and irreversible impact?

A serious and irreversible impact (SAII) is an impact that a consent authority considers likely to significantly increase the extinction risk of a threatened species or ecological community. The Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and the Biodiversity Conservation Regulation 2017 provides a framework for consent authorities to make this determination.

Who decides whether an impact is serious and irreversible?

The consent authority is responsible for deciding whether an impact is likely to be serious and irreversible.

Your responsibilities are outlined in section 10.2 of the biodiversity assessment method. These include:

  • identifying every potential serious and irreversible impact (SAII) entity
  • evaluating the nature of the impact on each entit
  • documenting efforts to avoid and minimise impacts on biodiversity in accordance with the assessment criteria.

This information is to be presented to the consent authority in the biodiversity assessment report to enable the consent authority to make a decision. The consent authority should also consider the principles set out in clause 6.7 of the Biodiversity Conservation Regulation 2017 and the Guidance to help a decision-maker to determine a serious and irreversible impact (PDF 711KB) .

What are impact thresholds for SAII?

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment has set impact thresholds for all fauna species at a risk of a SAII. These thresholds are available in the threatened biodiversity data collection (TBDC) in BioNet

A threshold of zero means that any impact may be considered potentially serious and irreversible by a consent authority. Where the threshold is zero this is represented by a number (0) in the relevant field in the TBDC.

Thresholds for threatened flora and ecological communities are incomplete. This is indicated in the TBDC by ‘under development’ or by a blank field.

What do I report in my biodiversity assessment report if no thresholds are available?

Impact thresholds are only one of the factors that a consent authority considers when deciding if an impact is likely to be serious and irreversible. The lack of a threshold does not prevent a consent authority from making a determination.

The consent authority makes a decision based on the information provided to address the assessment criteria in section 10.2 of the BAM (PDF 1.19MB). You must address these criteria as this information is essential for the consent authority to form their opinion.
Information used to address assessment criteria must be referenced. Suitable references include:

  • peer reviewed scientific literature
  • unpublished documents
  • databases and technical reports.

What do I do if I assume presence for a species that is at risk of a SAII?

The biodiversity development assessment report (BDAR) must include an assessment of the impact against the criteria set out in section 10.2 of the BAM (PDF 1.19MB). In these circumstances an expert report may be needed to provide the required information. The BDAR will form part of the development application considered by the consent authority.

Can I recommend a species be listed or delisted as a potential SAII?

If you consider that a threatened species or ecological community meets one or more of the principles of a SAII according to clause 6.7 of the Biodiversity Conservation Regulation 2017 and the Guidance to assist a decision-maker to determine a serious and irreversible impact (PDF 711KB), you can provide the relevant data to the Department via the LMBC support centre mailbox and request a review.

Alternatively, a consent authority may determine that a development is likely to result in a serious and irreversible impact for an entity that is not listed. This decision must be justified and include an assessment of the entity against the BC Regulation principles of serious and irreversible impacts.

Note that assessments against the principles are conducted at the state scale, not the local scale.

How often will the list of entities at risk of a SAII be updated?

The list of entities at risk of SAII will be updated periodically, most likely annually. Emergency updates may be necessary if there is new information or new listings by the NSW Threatened Species Scientific Committee. You will be notified of any changes to the list of entities at risk of SAII.

Do all proposals have to consider potential serious and irreversible impacts?

No. Assessment of a SAII is only required where a biodiversity development assessment report (BDAR) is used to assess the impacts of the development under the biodiversity offsets scheme.

Biodiversity data

How do I access BioNet data using Excel with Power Query?

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment has developed a BioNet Quick Guide for how to extract data from the BioNet Web Service using Windows Excel with Power Query plugin version 2.24.
The data made available through the web service is the same data that is currently available through the threatened biodiversity data collection.

Can I still access biodiversity data used in the BioBanking program and the Framework for Biodiversity Assessment?

Yes, visit Archived BioMetric and Threatened Species Profiles datasets to access this data.

However, this data and supporting information are no longer being updated by the Department. It is likely that the archived data will differ from current information provided in the BioNet threatened biodiversity data collection which is subject to an ongoing review and update program.

How has the threatened species data been generated?

Most of the data used in the Biodiversity Assessment Method calculator (BAM-C) has been derived using a consensus-based process involving the Department and external species experts. The Department is currently reviewing a subset of entities, mostly threatened plants.

Questions about threatened species data should be directed to Biodiversity Offsets Scheme support.

What are the transitional arrangements when new data is uploaded from BioNet into the BAM Calculator?

When reviewing a species in BioNet, you may notice that the data differs slightly from the BAM Calculator (BAM-C). This occurs when data is updated in BioNet (based on new information) but is not automatically updated in the BAM-C. The BAM-C data is updated periodically throughout the year and you will be notified about any updates.

At all times, the data in the BAM-C is to be used in an assessment and is considered correct. However, you still need to refer to BioNet because BioNet contains information that is not included in the BAM-C and could provide more up to date data/information.

Can I remove species from the list of candidate species credit species generated by the BAM Calculator?

The BAM Calculator (BAM-C) automatically generates a list of the candidate threatened species that meet the habitat suitability criteria and are therefore required to be assessed for the proposal.

You must then determine whether the geographic limitations of a species are met (read  the Biodiversity Assessment Method Calculator: User guide). Geographic limitations usually relate to altitude (e.g. a frog species that only occurs above an altitudinal limit) or topographic features (e.g. named permanent waterbodies). Different geographic limitations can be described for different IBRA subregions across a species’ distribution.

If the subject land is not within the geographic limitation described, the assessor can select ‘no’ in the BAM-C and the species will be removed from the candidate list of threatened species.

Can I add species to the list of candidate species credit species generated by the BAM Calculator?

Yes, you can add a species to the list. The BAM Operations Manual – Stage 1 provides more information, particularly where the assessor records the species occurs on the development or stewardship site.

Reasons for adding a species must be outlined in the biodiversity assessment report.

Surveying threatened species

Where do I find survey requirements for threatened species?

The Department has published a series of survey guides for:

Survey guides for other taxa will be available in the coming months. In the meantime, you must use a scientifically robust, fit for purpose and repeatable method to survey for the target species. Surveys must be conducted in accordance with available taxa-specific guides, including published peer reviewed guidelines and survey guidelines published by the Commonwealth Department of Environment and Energy.

More information about survey requirements is available in the threatened biodiversity data collection (in BioNet) including the optimal month of survey, the unit of measure and other information in the ‘General Notes’ field.

What do I do if no survey month is specified in the Biodiversity Assessment Method Calculator (BAM-C) for a flora species?

Some flora species profiles do not specify survey months. This can happen if:

  • the species is ephemeral and needs rain or a disturbance event before it will emerge
  • the best time for survey differs across the species’ range or
  • the plant is above ground for less than a month.

For these species, refer to the ‘General Notes’ field under ‘Ecological data’ in the threatened biodiversity data collection in BioNet. The notes will specify any environmental conditions required for survey, or the best time to survey for that species within a particular population or a region, or other tips to help locate and identify the plant (e.g. seeds are fluffy). You will need to obtain an expert report if the necessary environmental conditions for survey cannot be met.

Can I vary the survey month for species credit species?

Surveys must be conducted at the optimum time for detecting the species.

Optimum survey months for a species are shown in the threatened biodiversity data collection (TBDC) in BioNet and automatically populated in the BAM-C.

It is important that you check the ‘General Notes’ field in the TBDC for additional information about appropriate survey months. For example, if survey months differ across the species distribution (e.g. earlier in northern than southern areas) or if a survey should be timed to meet specific environmental conditions (e.g. within a set number of days post rainfall). 

You may adjust survey timing if, for example:

  • the species is flowering/fruiting out of season and these features are required for visibility or identification
  • natural disturbances or climatic events have occurred (e.g. recent fire, flood or rainfall)
  • ground disturbances have occurred (e.g. for species frequently found in disturbed road verges, fire obligates).

You must justify your reason for varying survey times in the biodiversity assessment report using appropriate published or peer-reviewed references and/or field data.

What happens if I can’t meet the specific survey requirements for a species?

The Biodiversity Assessment Method (BAM) provides a series of options to determine presence/absence of a species credit species on the subject land. If the specific survey requirements cannot be met, an expert report can be used (read section 6.5.2 BAM (PDF 1.19MB) or the proponent can choose to assume the presence of a species on the subject land (see section 6.4, Step 4 BAM (PDF 1.19MB) in place of survey.

Assuming the presence of a species on the subject land is an option only for development, clearing or biodiversity certification proposals and cannot be used to justify the presence or generate credits for a species at a biodiversity stewardship site.

Using an expert report or assuming the presence of a species may be appropriate if:

  • the target species is cryptic and therefore difficult to survey
  • the optimal survey time for the species has been missed or the proponent is unwilling to wait for the optimal survey season before submitting the development approval

If one of these options is selected, a targeted survey cannot subsequently be used to determined presence/absence of a species after an application for development has been lodged or approved. A targeted survey may be carried out on land under a biodiversity stewardship agreement (BSA) to add species credits at a later time. Additionality may apply to the creation of the credits as set out in section 13.11 of the BAM (PDF 1.19MB).

Who can prepare an expert report?

For the purposes of the BAM, an expert is a person who, in the opinion of the Environment Agency Head, possesses specialised knowledge based on training, study or experience to provide an expert opinion about the relevant biodiversity values.

Experts and the use of expert reports is described in section 6.5.2 of the BAM (PDF 1.19MB). The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment website publishes the list of experts

You should discuss the intention to use an expert report with the Department early in the assessment process, particularly if the expert is not included on the published list of experts.

Can I use results from past surveys for threatened species?

You can use the results of previous surveys if a targeted species survey was undertaken on the subject land within five years of the current proposal lodgement date, and the survey meets the requirements for the BAM as outlined in the BAM Operational Manual – Stage 1 (PDF 1.3MB).

The use of a past survey must be documented in the biodiversity assessment report. Surveys undertaken more than five years before the proposal lodgement date may be used to inform the assessment process but can't be used in place of a targeted species survey. Time limitations are imposed to ensure the data used in assessments reflect the current biodiversity values on the subject land.

Other questions

How does the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 interact with SEPP 44 - Koala Habitat Protection?

Proponents and consent authorities need to comply with both the requirements under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 (BC Act) and the requirements under State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) 44 – Koala Habitat Protection.

Compliance may require preparing a biodiversity development assessment report (BDAR) and offsetting impacts on koalas, as well as a koala plan of management (KPoM) under SEPP 44 which may also propose offsets. Whether offset requirements specified in a BDAR will satisfy the requirements under a KPoM will be a matter for the KPoM itself and will depend on the facts and circumstances of the specific development.

For example, a KPoM could be amended to say that meeting the offset obligations under the BC Act will satisfy the offset requirements under the KPoM. However, a consent authority could also decide to impose additional offset requirements after considering the BDAR and KPoM.

Similarly, if a Development Control Policy (DCP) is in place that has relevant provisions for core koala habitat, a consent authority could impose further controls through conditions which may also include offsets.
Council would need to be satisfied that any condition imposed is lawful and reasonable.

There may be overlap between the avoid, minimise or offset measures proposed in the BDAR and actions under a KPoM or controls in a DCP. This overlap does not necessarily create an inconsistency. However, in the instance that the consent authority would be unable to comply with the requirements of both the BC Act and SEPP 44, the BC Act would prevail.

What happens to existing BioBanking credits?

You can still transfer and retire BioBanking credits that match BioBanking credit obligations. The biodiversity credits webpage provides information about this.

The Department has also published information about how to apply for an assessment of reasonable equivalence for biodiversity credits to use biodiversity credits created under the biodiversity offsets scheme to retire credit obligations under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (repealed).

How is expert advice used in the biodiversity assessment method?

Expert advice can only replace a targeted survey or assumed presence if that advice is provided in accordance with section 6.5.2 of the BAM (PDF 1.19MB).

The species expert must determine the likely presence/absence of the species and if present by mapping the species polygon. The expert must write an expert report justifying this decision and documenting the information used. The expert report must be included in the biodiversity assessment report.

More information

Assessor resources

Legislation

 

About the biodiversity offsets scheme

Access the public registers

The Biodiversity Conservation Trust

Biodiversity certification

Entry requirements for the biodiversity offsets scheme

Biodiversity Assessment Method (BAM)

Biodiversity Assessment Method Order 2017

Serious and Irreversible impacts

The offset rules

The offsets payment calculator

 

 

 

 

Page last updated: 27 August 2019