This is a brief introduction into the concept of Biodiversity Net Gain as a possible solution to habitat loss across the UK. We look at new regulations and how it will affect future land development.
In 2018, Defra published its 25 Year Environment Plan with a key addition to include biodiversity enhancements at the core of its strategy to combat the dramatic loss of habitat and native species populations across the UK. This was later formalised in the Environment Bill in 2019 when The Government announced that it would mandate a net gain in biodiversity. Fast forward to 2022 and a new regulation has been proposed, expected to become law in 2022, whereby any new developments within the UK are required to contribute a minimum increase of 10% to the biodiversity value of the land. For developers, biodiversity protection or restoration becomes a crucial part of the planning process for new developments.
Over the last 50 years, the UK has experienced a significant decline in habitat creation and maintenance, this has threatened many native species populations and will continue to impact the health of ecosystems across the country. Biodiversity net gain (BNG) refers to the approach of measurably improving a natural environment through better practices in land management or development. By implementing this concept nationwide, any new development will directly contribute to the restoration of wildlife populations which, in turn, can help towards improving soil health, water quality and the capturing of carbon in our atmosphere.
The new regulation states that any new development must produce at least a 10% increase in the value of biodiversity of the land. Biodiversity value will be measured using Defra’s Biodiversity Metric which attaches a standard value (in Biodiversity Units) of any area of land, based on the extent and condition of the wildlife habitat of the land. This metric means that there will be a measurable and comparative value that is attached to a specific area, which will determine the viability of any new development with less ambiguity for developers. Developers are incentives to design a comprehensive strategy for achieving BNG, maximising the quality of the habitats that they are creating and maintaining, as this will mean that they have the option to trade Biodiversity credits as a new income stream.
For any new development to achieve a net gain, they must avoid any unnecessary destruction of existing habitats on the development site; restore or reinstate any habitats that are harmed; or create new compensatory habitat to replace what was lost. Developers can use off-site areas to contribute to the value of their development however it is encouraged to do this close to the development area as this will result in a higher biodiversity value through Defra’s metric. If a development is unable to achieve the 10% increase required, they may purchase Biodiversity credits to supplement the deficit. Any habitats (on-site, off-site or delivered using credits) must be maintained for 30 years as a minimum.
The introduction of this scheme will be pivotal in the protection and restoration of the UK’s wildlife. With the new regulations, likely to take effect in 2024, we hope to see an exponential increase in the number and quality of habitats across the country which will contribute to a reduction in the level of carbon in our atmosphere, healthier soil and better water quality. The use of Biodiversity credits, together with the new Environmental Land Management schemes will provide a new income stream for landowners willing to use their land for environmental development.