Biodiversity Net Gain | What is it and what does it mean for development in the UK?

March 28, 2023

Why all the hype around biodiversity?

Biodiversity, the diversity of biology, is the term used to encompass the variety of all living organisms on Earth, and more specifically within a particular habitat. From microorganisms invisible to the human eye to the largest mammals roaming the planet, each and every form of life is included. It’s such an important concept it is actually defined in a UN Treaty!

Every living organism plays a role in sustaining the delicate balance of ecosystems - habitats - the earth, making biodiversity the most basic and important foundation of the natural world. If a single species disappears, a domino effect on the entire ecosystem is likely to follow, causing imbalances that will ultimately lead to more extinctions.

Maintaining and regaining biodiversity is critical for the health and well-being of the planet and humanity. At a higher level, it’s essential to sustain and strengthen societies, providing us with food, medicine, and raw materials (among other things). So naturally, preserving and enhancing the diversity of life where we live (and in the world at large) is essential to ensure a sustainable future for all.

In the past century, more than any other time in history, human activities such as land development, deforestation, and pollution have threatened the biodiversity in habitats and communities the world over. To address this growing problem directly, biodiversity net gain has been introduced and is gaining political and social traction around the globe.

What is Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) and why does it matter?

Biodiversity Net Gain is a sustainable approach to development and land management that intends to ensure that development projects have a positive impact on biodiversity. The idea is that any development should not just avoid harm to nature but contribute to its restoration and enhancement, leaving the natural environment in a measurably better state than it was beforehand.

In the new Environment Act 2021, the UK government introduced a mandatory biodiversity net gain environment bill (which will start to be effective November 2023) making biodiversity net gain a legal requirement for all new developments in England. To secure planning permission, developers will have to submit a Biodiversity Gain Plan (BGP), assessing the habitat value of the land they will be developing and providing a measurable plan of how they will create a net uplift in biodiversity of at least 10% over a minimum period of 30 years.  

This new approach addresses the significant and ongoing biodiversity losses, specifically those losses caused by human action. It seeks to counteract these losses by requiring that any new developments or builds improve the overall biodiversity value in existing habitats or by generating additional biodiversity gains through measurable improvements.

How Biodiversity Net Gain will be achieved through the New Environment Bill 

Property Developers, Local Planning Authorities, and Landowners/Homeowners will all be required to do their bit to achieve the Biodiversity Net Gain goals outlined in the UK’s Biodiversity Net Gain Environment Bill. 

To be allowed to commence developments, property developers will need to prove that their development will enhance biodiversity, or achieve net gain, by meeting the minimum requirements outlined in the UK's new biodiversity net gain approach (a 10% biodiversity net gain expectation over the next 30 years). Development proposals must now include a Biodiversity Gain Plan, or BGP for short. There are three avenues by which biodiversity value can be incorporated into a development proposal to meet the new requirements. 

  1. Creating on-site environmental benefits that enhance the habitat value directly (preferable)

Examples of this may be - enhancing wildlife habitats in a way that will safeguard protected species, building green infrastructure, and/or contributing to local nature recovery strategies with ecological importance. In doing so, developers will be improving air quality, providing access to green space and nature, building for flood resilience, protecting priority habitats, preserving irreplaceable habitats, incorporating ecological features into future developments, and many other environmental management benefits to improve biodiversity!

  1. Registering an off-site net gain that has been allocated and approved as part of the development project (acceptable in the case it is not possible to create biodiversity net gain on-site)

This off-site property can be owned by the developer or permitted for use by a separate landowner. Examples listed in the on-site habitat biodiversity gain options above would also apply to these off-site allocations.

  1. Obtaining statutory biodiversity credits from the Secretary of State in accordance with the environment bill requirements (not preferred and only applicable in special cases)

This third option has been established as a last resort to reach biodiversity net gain mandates in the case developers are unable to achieve biodiversity net gain minimum requirements on-site or off-site.  

To create biodiversity credits, the UK government will establish biodiversity enhancements throughout the country, all focused on delivering biodiversity net gain. Every enhancement project or land parcel will have a biodiversity value or “credit”. These biodiversity credits may then be purchased as part of a Biodiversity Gain Plan to deliver net gain minimums.

All payments from biodiversity credits to the Secretary of State will be utilised solely for the purpose of habitat enhancement. This can include acquiring land interests, carrying out necessary works, and covering operational and administrative expenses associated.

Local Planning Authorities have the legal obligation to assess the Biodiversity Gain Plan (in addition to all other required documents) as a part of the approval process to grant development permissions. As the planning authority in each local council, it is their responsibility to prevent biodiversity loss for all new and future developments. To this end, it’s important that they know how to “measure biodiversity” and can accurately evaluate how new developments will be delivering net gain on and off development sites. 

Landowners and homeowners have the opportunity to assess their property for its habitat value, offering off-site biodiversity units that developers may purchase in cases where they are unable to meet the minimum biodiversity net gain on-site.

Running a biodiversity net gain assessment - calculating biodiversity net gain

The Biodiversity Metric is the key tool that supports the delivery of Biodiversity Net Gain. Under the new law, this is what developers will have to use to assess what impact their development has on local biodiversity. It is a habitat based approach used to assess an area’s importance and value to the ecosystem on the site to be developed. The biodiversity metric uses habitat features to measure the biodiversity value and calculate the biodiversity units present on-site. It can be used by (among others):

  • Property Developers creating biodiversity gain plan
  • Local Planning Authorities who are interpreting metric outputs in a planning application
  • Landowners, homeowners or land managers who want to provide biodiversity units from their sites to others
  • Communities who want to understand the impacts of a local development

An original and basic version was developed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, known as the DEFRA biodiversity metric. However, more recently DEFRA has paired up with Natural England to create the Biodiversity Metric 4.0 which is the new standard and the DEFRA approved biodiversity metric. It is used to calculate the baseline biodiversity value of a site and forecast its future biodiversity value. It will help ensure there will be no biodiversity loss, only net gains. 

While Biodiversity Metric 4.0 is the current project development standard, the choice of a metric may depend on the specific needs of the development project and the available data. Small property developers have the option to use the small sites metric and user guide which are both published on Natural England’s website.

Mitigation Hierarchy, planning and proving biodiversity net gain

In addition to the biodiversity metric, mitigation hierarchy is a crucial framework and should be used to outline a set of steps to reduce, mitigate, or offset the negative impacts of development on biodiversity. The hierarchy consists of four main steps:

  1. Avoidance involves selecting development sites that have the least negative impact on biodiversity 
  2. Minimisation involves reducing the negative impact of development on biodiversity
  3. Restoration involves restoring the affected habitats to their original state or improving their quality
  4. Offsetting involves creating new habitats or enhancing existing ones to compensate for the loss of biodiversity resulting from development

Guidance for Biodiversity Net Gain Plans

Biodiversity net gain assessments and mitigation hierarchy structures are essential to developing a biodiversity gain plan. The use of Biodiversity Metric 4.0 and application of the mitigation hierarchy are both necessary to prove biodiversity net gains and get a biodiversity gain plan approved. 

Biodiversity Net Gain policy stipulates a framework of requirements. Standards around what needs to be included in a biodiversity gain plan are currently scattered across different resources, legislation and government publications. You may be familiar with The DEFRA Biodiversity Metric as a common metric in the UK. However, it's recently been updated and replaced by the Natural England Metric 4.0 (or Small Site Metric, where applicable). Despite the complexities and ambiguities, compliance is strict and ALL the requirements set out in the Environment Act must be fulfilled and approved by the local planning authority. Given the complexities of different sites, the natural habitats existing on them, and the needs of each development project, there are a number of resources and expertise needed to develop a thorough and accurate Biodiversity Gain Plan. 

It will require a calculation of the development site’s biodiversity metrics, and a mitigation hierarchy to prove how the development will be delivering a minimum 10% biodiversity net gain over the next 30+ years -  all collated into a biodiversity gain plan.

Here’s a basic outline of what should be considered and/or included in a Biodiversity Gain Plan:

Site survey: A preliminary appraisal of the existing biodiversity on the site, including a survey of the habitats present. This is the first step to understanding the habitat’s biodiversity value and is essential for calculating the biodiversity net gain needed for planning approval by local authorities. 

Biodiversity goals: A set of clear, measurable objectives for delivering biodiversity net gains. This could include specific targets for increasing the number of biodiversity units by creating new habitats. 

Habitat creation / restoration plans: A plan for restoring any existing habitats on the site that have been damaged or degraded by past activities. This may involve removing invasive species, improving soil quality, planting new vegetation, or including any other biodiversity net gain of special scientific interest. 

Mitigation measures: A plan for reducing the impact of the development on the site's biodiversity. This may involve measures such as wildlife corridors, green roofs, or green walls.

Monitoring and reporting plans: A plan for monitoring the success of the biodiversity gain plan and reporting progress to the relevant local planning authorities. This may involve regular surveys of the site's flora and fauna, and regular reporting on progress towards biodiversity net gain goals.

Financial commitment: A clear commitment to funding and implementing the biodiversity gain plan over the 30 years. This may involve setting aside a portion of the development budget specifically for biodiversity net gain enhancement measures.

Cost effective resources for biodiversity net gain planning

There’s a plethora of free information as well as paid consultants available for completing the statutory Biodiversity Net Gain Metric and for researching and writing a Biodiversity Gain Plan. It can be a daunting and an expensive endeavour. That’s why Joe’s Blooms has built a self-service digital platform to simplify and streamline the process. Our online platform service helps by providing a digital end-to-end solution. It allows developers to collate all the necessary information about their site, inputs this data into a biodiversity metric tool, and then generates a Biodiversity Gain Plan that meets all the statutory requirements for biodiversity net gain planning approval.  Our solutions are fully compliant with the law and embed best practice at each stage. They help ensure that small developers who lack resources are still given the tools and chance to ‘go green’. So long as the data entered is an accurate reflection of what is on the site, the material that our tool produces will meet all your needs. 

Using a digital tool like Joe’s Blooms helps small developers save time on researching the finer details of regulations and compliance while cutting the costs of expensive consultants. The investment in our digital resource for biodiversity net gain compliance could save you tens of thousands of pounds on consultation costs.

Joe’s Blooms is already working with a number of stakeholders, including DEFRA and Natural England, to ensure our system and solutions fully comply with the 'Net Gain' policy. For the purposes of demonstrating a proof of concept, the first version of Joe’s Blooms’ product uses the Biodiversity Metric 4.0.

You can keep up to date with us by subscribing to our news and updates here.

The implications of biodiversity net gain for developers and landowners is huge and failing to deliver adequate biodiversity net gain could be a time consuming and costly error. Our platform service is designed and vetted to make developing a biodiversity gain plan as fast and easy as possible, so you can get on with your development.

Get in touch with us today to see how we can directly help you with your biodiversity net gain plan.

Oliver Lewis

Founder of Joe’s Blooms

Oliver Lewis is the founder of Joe’s Blooms, providing end-to-end digital solutions to help you create best-in-class Biodiversity Gain Plans. Expert in this field, he shares his knowledge on the Environment Bill which will be effective in November 2023.

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