With recent research revealing that Britain has lost more of its biodiversity than any other G7 country, the government has introduced a new Environment Act in 2021 which aims to restore our struggling flora and fauna.
Part of this law is called Biodiversity Net Gain, a legal requirement that will affect all development projects being rolled out across the UK. According to this legislation, developers must be able to deliver at least a 10% net biodiversity gain that can be sustained for at least three decades.
This BNG requirement has made development proposals necessarily more complex, requiring four stages of mitigation to prove that they can meet the biodiversity target. These steps consist of avoidance, minimization, on-site restoration and compensation.
But what does this all mean in practice, and what should developers keep in mind going forward as they adapt to biodiversity legislation?
Here are some important points to consider, including helpful suggestions for achieving that crucial 10% gain.
Why is the BNG legislation a positive step?
The most obvious benefit of BNG and the Environment Act is the restoration of native flora and fauna across the UK. Since the start of the industrial revolution, Britain’s biodiversity has dropped dramatically compared to other countries in the world, and this shocking decline may trigger not only an “ecological crisis”, but a series of related problems which will also affect Human being. as fauna.
In fact, according to the WHO, many vital aspects of life can be affected by a loss of biodiversity, including “livelihoods, income, net migration”; indirectly, a loss of biodiversity can even contribute to political conflict. In the UK, this could include a lack of agricultural jobs, leading to increased unemployment in rural areas of the country. The availability of natural resources, such as timber, fresh water and minerals, could also be severely affected, and popular recreational activities such as bird watching and fishing could become non-existent if the trend continues.
This, of course, is in addition to the irreparable decimation of our native plant and animal species, which represents a tragic loss, not only for our present generation, but for all succeeding generations.
With a strong focus on restoring biodiversity, the BNG legislation will work to undo the damage done over the past 150 years and restore the health of our local environments.
Creating an online planning proposal with BNG
As mentioned above, any planning permission proposal should now seek to implement BNG legislation in a four-tier hierarchy. By following this ranking system, developers can ensure that their proposal will be successfully received and can be implemented faster and more efficiently.
The first and simplest step is avoidance. This means avoiding any potential development site that could pose a threat to biodiversity, such as areas of woodland or heathland that support a wide range of insects, birds, animals and plants.
The second step is minimization. In this planning phase, developers would take as many precautions as possible to mitigate the impact of their construction on the proposed site. This would include designing methods to reduce the time spent on construction work and limiting the scope of development. Including these measures in the early stages will help prevent any serious impediments occurring while construction is already well underway.
The third step in the hierarchy is on-site restoration, whereby the proponent makes quantifiable efforts to restore or develop the habitats impacted by their project. This step is crucial if the first two steps could not be adequately satisfied.
Finally, the fourth level is compensation, which includes the various remedial measures a developer must take to compensate for any damage or negative impact they have caused. This can either be done on the development site itself or, if this is not possible for practical reasons, it must be done offsite – regardless of location, this compensation process must ensure a net gain of biodiversity by 10%.
How to reach BNG as a developer?
The easiest and least stressful way to ensure that your development reaches its 10% BNG is to hire the services of professionals who have a deep understanding of ecology. Not only will they understand what it will take to achieve your net biodiversity gain, but they will be able to advise you on a range of related areas, including potential legal ramifications. They can also provide critical skills during the development process, from writing reports to providing practical solutions to environmental management issues.
How to calculate the net biodiversity gain?
Many developers may fear that the introduction of BNG legislation will lead to different sets of seemingly arbitrary restrictions being implemented across boards. However, this is not the case.
There is more than one metric for measuring biodiversity, but the most commonly used will likely be the DEFRA 3.1 metric, which allows planners to easily assess the net gains and losses for each project.
To do this, they need to consider a few key factors. These include:
- The type of habitat located on and around the proposed development site.
- The size of the habitats.
- The current state of habitats.
The results of the preliminary ecological survey that will have been carried out beforehand as part of a development proposal from the promoter will help them in their determinations. These surveys highlight the non-replaceable habitats and the protected species that may be present on the site. Depending on the species, this might then require further investigations specific to that animal, whether it is a putative population of bats or crested newts.
The net biodiversity gain will then be calculated using biodiversity credits or units.
In order to determine whether or not your development has achieved the legal 10% gain, development site surveys should be conducted before and after the project has been undertaken.
If your biodiversity score is higher after the work is completed, then you will have achieved the required net gain. However, it is not enough to have a high enough score, there must also be demonstrable evidence that this score is likely to be maintained for at least the next 30 years. Accordingly, it is essential that you incorporate longevity into your biodiversity enhancement strategies, following the advice of your recruited experts to ensure the success of your project – and your restored or enhanced habitats.