In previous blogs, we have discussed how important it is to make sure that, in any scheme that seeks to offset the damage of a development on a local ecosystem, it is vital to make sure that the mitigation is as close to the point of impact as possible. When it comes to preserving and enhancing biodiversity in development projects, this principle is key - and is built into the biodiversity metric via the spatial risk multiplier.
This essential component of the Biodiversity Metric helps ensure that off-site habitat compensation is in close proximity to the impacted site, thus maintaining local biodiversity and supporting the ecosystem services provided to local communities.
The spatial risk multiplier is a tool that penalises proposals in which off-site habitats are located far from the impact site. This encourages adherence to the proximity principle or spatial hierarchy, which prioritises local enhancements for Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG).
A developer will need to consider the spatial multiplier if BNG cannot be achieved on-site after consulting the mitigation hierarchy. If it is clear that only off-site solutions can be used, then off-site opportunities should be identified (with statutory credits purchased only as an ultimate last resort).
To determine the correct spatial risk multiplier score, assessors should consult Table 7-1 in the Technical Annex to the Biodiversity Metric, which provides descriptions for different situations. For off-site habitats inside the local planning authority (LPA) area or the same National Character Area/Marine Plan Area for inter-tidal habitats, the multiplier applied is 1 (i.e. no change). The further away the offset is from the site then the more that multiplier figure comes down - and the more Biodiversity Units (BUs) need to be purchased to offset as a result (it’s also worth noting that for rivers and streams specific rules apply).
The spatial multiplier has some overlap with (though is very much distinct from) the strategic importance multiplier. This is when local nature priorities are incentivised by the Biodiversity Metric in a way that aligns with nature recovery networks and published local strategies. These may include Local Nature Recovery Strategies, Local Biodiversity Plans, National Character Area Objectives, Local Planning Authority Local Ecological Networks, Shoreline Management Plans, Estuary Strategies, and Green Infrastructure Strategies.
Joe’s Blooms has made sure that the multiplier - along with all other multipliers - are fully integrated into the technology that we have developed. We are able to make sure that we can use this data to provide the user with the best options for sourcing BUs that will meet their needs and the environmental needs of their site (assuming that all other options have been exhausted). In other words, we can turn a complex set of calculations into an automated process, instead allowing the user to clearly see what various offset options mean for their site and make informed decisions.
And, of course, any land delivering BNG must be managed, monitored, and reported on for the duration of the net gain agreement, which is a minimum of 30 years. No matter if you are using offsites or not, during site selection and the pre-application stage, it is essential to consult the mitigation hierarchy, the Defra/Biodiversity Metric, and the spatial risk multiplier and proximity principle.
The spatial multiplier shouldn’t just be a number, it should be a guide for developers to better understand the value of site proximity and take appropriate steps to protect and enhance biodiversity in and around their projects. As always, the focus should be on ensuring that any compensation is done as close to the point of impact as possible.