Biodiversity net gain is an approach to development that aims to leave biodiversity in a measurably better state than it was before development takes place. This is achieved through introducing an increase in natural habitat and ecological features that goes over and above what was found on site, such as planting trees, building wetlands or replacing areas of grassland with wildflower meadows. By making this an obligation for developers, the hope is that the current rate of habitat loss caused by development can be halted and ecological networks can be restored.
But the idea is not without its challenges. A large part of the challenge comes from how difficult it is to balance economic development with environmental protection, and the fact that developers are often focused solely on delivering the project within its allocated budget. The other major issue is how to ensure that the plans created for biodiversity net gain are actually effective. For example, if the plans aren’t monitored or managed properly, it is easy to lose track of the progress that has been made and end up with biodiversity being left in a worse state than before development began.
The introduction of biodiversity net gain into planning legislation has been an attempt to address these issues and bring a greater focus on nature into the heart of developing projects. It is important to understand the impact that development can have on biodiversity and how it can be balanced with creating a more nature-friendly environment, especially in urban settings where it is hard for wildlife to thrive.
In order to create a biodiversity net gain plan, the developer will need to assess their proposed project’s impact on biodiversity by calculating and comparing their biodiversity score before and after their planned development work. They will also need to follow the mitigation hierarchy (avoidance, minimisation, restoration and offsetting) when assessing how they can achieve their biodiversity net gain targets.
If the desired biodiversity net gain isn’t achievable on the proposed development site itself, it can be offset by increasing the biodiversity value of an off-site site. However, this must be done through a bespoke biodiversity offsetting process that has been approved by the local planning authority.
Developers should consider incorporating biodiversity net gain into their project planning stages from the very beginning. This will help them identify any constraints they may face and enable them to take appropriate steps to protect or improve the biodiversity value of their sites. Using the biodiversity metric early in the planning process will give them more flexibility in their design options and allow them to maximise the benefits of the new habitats they are creating or restoring. By following the guidance of the Local Planning Authority, they should be able to demonstrate that their biodiversity net gain plan is likely to be successful and will enable them to obtain planning permission for their development work.