Project biodiversity baseline

1. Project biodiversity baseline

Potential residual impacts of a project are determined against a baseline representing the pre-project condition of the biodiversity element(s) for which the site qualifies as a KBA (including the supporting ecological context).


How can the World Database of Key Biodiversity AreasTM help? The World Database of Key Biodiversity AreasTM can be used to identify the trigger biodiversity element(s) that need to be assessed as part of the baseline studies. In addition, information on existing threats would also help in completing the study.


More about this guideline

Biodiversity baselines are studies conducted at the early stages of project development that provide information about the biological diversity and significance of the site. If a KBA has already been identified at a site it means it has met certain thresholds for the number or range area of trigger species, ecosystem or biological process and is globally important for those biodiversity elements. Operating in these areas will increase reputational risk to a company. Some areas may merit KBA status but have not been identified to date and baselines should check whether there may be a KBA trigger element at a site. Baselines are critical to good project decision making, and biodiversity management in particular, because they:

  • help identify and prioritise the most important biodiversity elements present within the area of influence of the project, with a specific focus on the aspects of biodiversity that lead to a Key Biodiversity Area’s (KBA) identification;
  • provide information that allows for a rigorous and transparent impact assessment process;
  • provide information that allows for  early  implementation of the mitigation hierarchy; and
  • provide the data for establishing long-term monitoring and assessment programmes. 

The rigour and sophistication of project development biodiversity baselines have increased dramatically over recent years, driven mainly by changes to regulatory requirements (including the broad adoption of biodiversity offset requirements at the regional and national levels), financial lending requirements, and voluntary commitments by leading companies. Recent leading practice guidance (Anstee et. al. 2016 and Gullison et. al. 2015) recommends an iterative five-step process to establish a biodiversity baseline, which can then be used to develop a project’s biodiversity risk profile and management strategy (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. The five iterative steps in a leading practice biodiversity baseline study (adapted from Gullison et. al. 2015).


If a decision has been made to explore options for development within a KBA, a project may follow all five steps to fully understand the biodiversity context in which the project will operate and its potential impacts on significant biodiversity elements of the KBA. Note that KBA trigger species should be considered as potential Critical Habitat trigger species relevant to the International Finance Corporation’s PS6 standard.

There is a propensity for business development to delay the collection of baseline data, and more importantly the implementation of conservation and mitigation actions, until the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment process. This approach has been driven by the goal of minimising project development costs as much as possible. 

Fortunately, several industries are working to address this issue and have produced useful guidance on aligning biodiversity baseline and project development timelines (CSBI, 2013).  As a basic principle, it is best to start the collection of biodiversity data well before the final project planning phase, so that biodiversity risks and opportunities can be assessed and a plan drawn up and put into practice using the mitigation hierarchy. To maintain the integrity of the important biodiversity in KBAs, at the earliest opportunity projects need to assess the risks and opportunities for biodiversity and then implement mitigation activities that reduce or eliminate risks and enhance opportunities.

The information gathered as part of the biodiversity baseline process has several important applications. It provides a record of the current biodiversity status of the area against which the project’s potential impacts will be overlaid, assessed, and then managed. Baseline data are also necessary in the planning and implementation of a project’s restoration and biodiversity offset activities.

Problems can arise when a project is being developed in a degraded habitat, and an understanding of the pre-degraded state is required for restoration and/or offset planning and objectives setting. In these situations, it will be important for the project to establish a valid benchmark. There are several possible methodologies for establishing a valid habitat benchmark, including the identification and use of un-degraded surrogate sites in the same ecotype as the project area. Alternatively, if these are not available, a theoretical benchmark may be established using best-available scientific data and opinions about the pre-degraded habitat condition. Guidance on possible benchmark methodologies can be found in some national- and state-level bio-banking programmes that use habitat condition metrics (Eyre et. al. 2015).

References and Resources

Anstee, S., Bennun, L., Temple, H., and Dutson, G. (2016). Biodiversity Management: Leading practice sustainable development programme for the mining industry.  Department of Industry. Canberra, Australia.

CSBI. (2013). CSBI timeline tool: A tool for aligning timelines for project execution, biodiversity management and financing. Prepared by the Biodiversity Consultancy on behalf of IPIECA, ICMM, and the Equator Principles Association: Cambridge, UK.

Eyre, T.J., Kelly, A.L, Neldner, V.J., Wilson, B.A., Ferguson, D.J., Laidlaw, M.J., and Franks, A.J. (2015). BioCondition: A Condition Assessment Framework for Terrestrial Biodiversity in Queensland. Assessment Manual. Version 2.2. Queensland Herbarium, Department of Science, Information Technology, Innovation and Arts, Brisbane.

Gullison, R.E., Hardner, J., Anstee, S., and Meyer, M. (2015). Good practices for the collection of biodiversity baseline data. Prepared for the Multilateral Financing Institutions Biodiversity Working Group and Cross-Sector Biodiversity Initiative, ICMM, London.