Wildlife & Traffic

A European Handbook for Identifying Conflicts and Designing Solutions

8 Ecological Compensation
Original version (2003)
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

8.1 The concept of ecological compensation

8.1.1 Ecological compensation for habitat loss and degradation

Despite good planning and use of mitigation measures aiming to avoid or reduce adverse impacts on natural habitats, it is impossible to completely avoid the negative effects of infrastructure development. This realisation has led to the principle of ecological compensation in many European countries. Ecological compensation implies that specified natural habitats and their qualities, such as wetlands or old-growth forests, should be developed elsewhere when they are impacted by an approved project. When compensation is implemented, the measures should balance the ecological damage, aiming for a 'no net loss' situation that benefits both habitats and their associated species. Ecological compensation may be defined as creating, restoring or enhancing nature qualities in order to counterbalance ecological damage caused by infrastructure developments.

Ecological compensation aims to enhance the role of nature conservation interests in project planning and decision-making (see Chapter 5), and to pursue a 'no net loss' solution once development is approved. These aims imply that ecological compensation is a 'last resort' solution - it is only considered where planning and mitigation measures are not able to prevent damage. Ecological compensation should not be considered as an enabling activity to allow developers to get planning permission by buying-off environmental objections.

Since legal instruments, such as expropriation tools, that enable developers to acquire suitable land from landowners for compensation purposes are few, compensatory measures are mainly implemented on a voluntary basis, rooted in agreements between project developers, nature conservation trusts, landowners or other stakeholders.

8.1.2 Compensation as part of the nature conservation concept

Compensatory measures are fundamentally different from the protection or enhancement of natural values (nature conservation policy). However, compensatory measures must be in line with local and national nature conservation targets. In contrast with landscaping and mitigation measures, ecological compensation is generally undertaken outside the highway management area. As initiators of projects are held responsible for the implementation of the compensatory measures, highway agencies should put serious effort into acquiring land in the neighbourhood of the infrastructure for compensation objectives. By locating the compensation sites properly, for example spatially linked to nature reserves or networks, ecological functions and relations may be protected or enhanced.

8.1.3 Scope of compensatory measures

The way compensatory measures are applied varies from country to country, and depends on the geographical and cultural context. Compensation may include conversion of land for the development of new new habitats (woods, river beds, etc.). Habitat enhancement may also encompass the adaptation of farming activities towards nature conservation considerations (e.g. meadow-birds or plants). Artificial wetlands (not necessarily ponds) may be created in order to attract species such as amphibians and reptiles. Created wetlands may not compensate for the impacted wetlands from a landscape-ecological point of view. Research enabling compensation to be targeted for the benefit of specific species can also be considered as compensation. Ecological compensation can be applied to the complete spectrum of impacts, including habitat degradation (habitat is still present, but impacted), and loss of functions such as nutrient and energy flows.