Biodiversity Net Gain 2024

21 June, 2024
Biodiversity Net Gain

What is Biodiversity Net Gain and why is it gaining traction across the world?

Biodiversity entails everything that is sustained in the environment. It includes plants, animals, microorganisms, ecosystems, and humans. A report released in 2020 noted an unprecedented rate of biodiversity loss, with over 1 million species under the threat of extinction – which has prompted the dire need for interventions in regulations and policy to mitigate relevant combat measures. This paved the way for concepts like Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG), a mandatory scheme for small and major development projects. This blog will discuss the updated information and details on BNG.

In England, BNG is mandatory from 12 February 2024 under Schedule 7A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as inserted by Schedule 14 of the Environment Act 2021). Developers must deliver a BNG of 10%. This means a development will result in more or better quality natural habitat than there was before development.


Table of Contents


What is Biodiversity Net Gain?

Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) is a development approach that seeks to leave biodiversity in a better state than before the development took place. The core aim of BNG is to ensure that any negative impacts on biodiversity from development activities are not only compensated but also exceeded by positive actions, resulting in a net positive outcome for nature. It aims at the recovery and protection of the whole or part of biodiversity that can be lost on-site with the help of a strategically designed plan. Biodiversity on the site land is lost completely due to the bleaching of soil, removal of life forms on it, and use of pesticides. It is important to note that all developments to date have caused biodiversity loss. Over time, there has been a tremendous decline in biodiversity, which has caused an ecological imbalance. 

To improve the current situation, Biodiversity Net Gain has become a mandatory part of the Town and Country Planning Act. Since 12th February 2024, developers are required to retain or ensure at least 10% of the total biodiversity lost from any development project.

BNG involves achieving measurable improvements for biodiversity through actions such as creating new habitats, enhancing existing ones, and improving the ecological quality of degraded areas. The principle behind BNG is to ensure that the benefits to biodiversity outweigh the losses, leading to a quantifiable net gain.

To achieve BNG, developers typically follow these steps:

  1. Baseline Assessment: Assess the current biodiversity value of the site.
  2. Impact Assessment: Identify potential impacts on biodiversity from the proposed development.
  3. Mitigation Hierarchy: Avoid, minimize, and restore impacts on biodiversity before considering offsets.
  4. Compensation and Enhancement: Implement measures to compensate for any residual impacts and enhance biodiversity beyond the baseline condition.
  5. Monitoring and Management: Ensure long-term management and monitoring to maintain and enhance the gains achieved.


Importance of Biodiversity Net Gain

Environmental Benefits

Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) plays a critical role in reversing biodiversity loss, which is essential for maintaining healthy and resilient ecosystems. By creating, enhancing, and restoring habitats, BNG helps to increase biodiversity, improve ecosystem services, and support species conservation. Enhanced biodiversity can lead to improved air and water quality, soil health, and climate regulation, which are vital for the sustainability of natural resources.

Social Benefits

BNG also provides significant social benefits by enhancing green spaces and improving human health and well-being. Access to biodiverse natural areas reduces stress, improves mental health, and encourages physical activity. Communities benefit from the aesthetic and recreational opportunities provided by rich, diverse natural environments. Additionally, as people connect with nature and learn about the importance of biodiversity it reinforces educational and cultural values.

Economic Benefits

Economically, BNG contributes to long-term cost savings and new revenue streams. By integrating biodiversity considerations into development projects, businesses can reduce risks associated with environmental degradation and comply with regulations more efficiently. Enhanced biodiversity can also increase property values and attract investments by creating appealing, sustainable living and working environments. Furthermore, BNG can generate economic opportunities through eco-tourism and green infrastructure projects.

Promoting Sustainable Development

BNG aligns with sustainable development goals by ensuring that economic growth does not come at the expense of environmental health. By embedding biodiversity enhancements into development projects, BNG supports a balanced approach that considers environmental, social, and economic factors. This holistic approach helps to create sustainable communities that can thrive now and in the future, ensuring that development projects leave a positive legacy for biodiversity and human well-being.


Who does it affect? 

BNG legislation affects a set of professionals and communities as follows – 

  1. Developers: Property developers will be the most affected as they are responsible for innovating designs implementing them in sustainable models and meeting the BNG requirements to the maximum 
  2. Local planning authority: Their responsibility is to ensure that BNG requirements are enforced in the respective areas and are regularly abided by. They ensure the management of conservation projects and biodiversity credit systems designed to meet individual BNG obligations. 
  3. Environmental consultants: They provide professional support and advice to help developers conduct biodiversity surveys, design strategies and monitor their implementation. 
  4. Landowners: They are required to make the necessary applications and get into partnership agreements to abide by BNG compliances. 
  5. Communities and NGOs: They help companies and landowners to implement necessary conservational activity and derive support from society. 

Principles of Biodiversity Net Gain 

The Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management has traced out ten essential principles that set the framework for BNG implementations. These principles provide the groundwork for a structured framework and strategies to improve understanding from the developers’ perspective. 

  1. Use the mitigation hierarchy to minimize biodiversity impacts.
  2. Avoid negative biodiversity effects that cannot be offset elsewhere.
  3. Involve stakeholders in mandatory net gain planning before and after development.
  4. Recognize risks and uncertainties in achieving biodiversity net gain.
  5. Ensure an improved state of biodiversity.
  6. Aim for the highest quality outcomes in biodiversity efforts.
  7. Go beyond basic requirements in conservation efforts.
  8. Prioritize long-term ecological benefits.
  9. Address economic and social sustainability.
  10. Maintain transparency in reporting biodiversity net gain results.

Ways to achieve BNG target

The developers and consultants can use either or a combination of suggested sources and methods to reach the BNG target for a specific project. It is important to consider all the options and choose what is feasible based on agreements.

Onsite BNG 

It targets to create biodiversity on the site that already exists in such a way that the habitat and site development can thrive together. This is one of the easiest and cheapest ways of BNG compliance. It may take some creative thinking for its application and is preferred over other options. 

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Offsite BNG 

If the biodiversity is improved locally outside the side, it is known as offsite BNG. It can be done if the landowners own another land or enter into a partnership agreement. Then, damage done to onsite biodiversity can be balanced with offsite improvement projects. 

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Biodiversity credits 

Even though it is deliberately discouraged, there is an option to buy premium biodiversity credits. These credits are sold by organizations that take up biodiversity development projects across the UK. Even though it is an easier method, it is quite difficult to get an application and approval using this method. 

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Land banks 

They deal with plots of land that are bought in the market to restore, to sell to developers at a better price in the future. Since they are not used on developmental projects immediately, they help to restore the biodiversity and improve the conditions of the site. 


Tools and Methodologies

  • Biodiversity Metrics: Quantitative tools like Defra’s biodiversity metric help measure biodiversity units before and after development. These metrics consider factors such as habitat type, condition, and area to calculate the net impact on biodiversity .
  • Habitat Assessments: Detailed habitat assessments, including Phase 1 habitat surveys and more specific surveys for key species, are essential for accurate baseline data collection.
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS): GIS tools are used for spatial analysis and mapping of habitats, enabling precise planning and monitoring of biodiversity measures.

Mandatory BNG compliances throughout a project lifespan 

The points mentioned below recommend the necessary actions to be taken during planning, designing, implementing, and monitoring to comply with BNG. 

1. Pre-purchase 

  • Initial BNG feasibility assessment 
  • Nature-based solution review 
  • Local plan requirements on BNG

2. Design

  • Statutory biodiversity metric calculation for BNG design 
  • Socio-economic considerations and solutions 
  • BNG design along with habitat management and monitoring plan

3. Planning application submission 

  • A statutory biodiversity metric calculation 
  • On-site BNG design
  • Details of impacted biodiversity – both onsite and offsite 
  • BNG design stage report 
  • BNG plan draft 
  • Discussion with offsite providers, if any

4. Post-planning permission 

  • Offset BNG provision 
  • Legal agreements 
  • Approval of updated BNG plan

5. Commencement requirements 

  • BNG handover 
  • Avoiding any change, post consent and approval 
  • Immediate care post-construction 
  • Post construction handover 


6. Operational stage 

  • Monitoring and abiding by the plan periodically. 

Legal and Policy Framework

UK Policy Context

The UK’s Environment Bill is a landmark piece of legislation that sets the legal framework for achieving Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG). The bill mandates that all new developments in England must deliver a minimum of 10% net gain in biodiversity from 2023. This requirement ensures that new projects contribute positively to the natural environment rather than merely mitigating their impact.

Key aspects of the Environment Bill related to BNG include:

  • Mandatory BNG Requirement: All development projects must achieve at least a 10% increase in biodiversity.
  • Biodiversity Metric: Developers are required to use a standardized biodiversity metric to measure the impact and the net gain.
  • Biodiversity Gain Plan: Developers must submit a Biodiversity Gain Plan outlining how they will achieve the required net gain.
  • Conservation Covenants: Long-term agreements to ensure that biodiversity gains are maintained and managed properly over time.

These measures aim to integrate biodiversity considerations into the planning system, ensuring that development projects contribute to the restoration and enhancement of natural habitats.

International Perspectives

Australia: Australia has implemented various BNG policies, particularly through its Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The act includes requirements for offsetting biodiversity losses by creating or enhancing habitats elsewhere, ensuring that any development results in a net positive impact on biodiversity.

European Union: The EU’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 emphasizes the need for member states to adopt BNG principles. This includes setting aside protected areas, restoring degraded ecosystems, and integrating biodiversity considerations into all sectors, including agriculture, forestry, and fisheries.

United States: In the US, while there is no federal mandate for BNG, various states and cities have adopted similar principles. For instance, California’s regulations often require habitat compensation and enhancement measures to offset impacts from development, aligning with the broader goals of BNG.

These international efforts illustrate a growing recognition of the importance of integrating biodiversity gains into development planning to promote sustainable growth and ecological resilience.


Case Studies

1. High Speed 2 (HS2) Project, UK

  • Project: HS2 is a high-speed rail project connecting major cities in the UK.
  • BNG Objective: Achieve no net loss in biodiversity and a net gain where feasible.
  • Outcomes and Benefits: HS2 has committed to extensive biodiversity mitigation and enhancement measures. This includes creating new habitats, restoring ecosystems, and implementing green corridors to reconnect fragmented landscapes. Specific outcomes include:
    • Creation of new woodlands and wetlands along the rail route.
    • Enhancement of existing habitats to improve biodiversity resilience.
    • Integration of green infrastructure into urban areas to benefit local wildlife.
    • Commitment to long-term monitoring and management to ensure biodiversity gains are sustained.

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2. Chester Zoo Nature Reserve, UK

  • Project: Expansion and enhancement of Chester Zoo’s nature reserve.
  • BNG Objective: Enhance biodiversity and habitat connectivity.
  • Outcomes and Benefits: The project involved:
    • Creation of new habitats such as wetlands, meadows, and woodlands.
    • Restoration of degraded habitats to improve biodiversity.
    • Implementation of sustainable land management practices.
    • Monitoring and research to assess biodiversity gains and inform conservation strategies.
    • Educational programs and community engagement to raise awareness and involve the public in conservation efforts.

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3. Wolli Creek Regional Park, Australia

  • Project: Rehabilitation and conservation of former industrial lands in Sydney.
  • BNG Objective: Restore native habitats and enhance biodiversity.
  • Outcomes and Benefits: The project has achieved:
    • Rehabilitation of degraded landscapes into native bushland and wetlands.
    • Protection and restoration of riparian habitats along waterways.
    • Creation of recreational spaces that integrate with natural habitats.
    • Engagement with local communities in habitat restoration and biodiversity monitoring.
    • Collaboration with government agencies and NGOs to ensure sustainable management and conservation outcomes.

Challenges in Implementing Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG)

  • Complex and variable ecosystems make accurate measurement difficult.
  • Sustaining interest and funding over the long term is difficult.
  • Diverse interests can lead to conflicts.
  • Weak or inconsistent regulatory and policy frameworks hinder BNG.
  • The lack of comprehensive data impedes effective planning.

How can an environmental consultant help businesses with BNG compliance? 

Considering the complications of legal adherence and practical innovation for these projects, it is beneficial to have a professional perspective on the projects. We can help with biodiversity baseline surveys, creating a practical BNG plan, analyzing the options available, and explaining the best places for development. Professionals can also suggest if the plans laid out can practically deliver and meet the 10% goal on the project. 

To know more, check what we do at Imvelo here


FAQs
What is Biodiversity Net Gain?

Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) is a development approach that ensures projects leave biodiversity in a better state than before. It involves creating or enhancing habitats to achieve measurable improvements in biodiversity.

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Why is Biodiversity Net Gain important?

Biodiversity Net Gain is crucial for reversing biodiversity loss, enhancing ecosystem services, and promoting sustainable development. It benefits the environment, supports human well-being, and provides economic advantages by creating healthier communities.

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How does Biodiversity Net Gain work?

Biodiversity Net Gain involves assessing the current biodiversity value of a site, planning and implementing habitat creation or enhancement, and monitoring the results. Developers use standardized biodiversity metrics to measure and report the net gain.

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How is Biodiversity Net Gain calculated?

Biodiversity Net Gain is calculated using biodiversity metrics that quantify the ecological value of habitats before and after development. These metrics consider factors such as habitat type, condition, and area to determine the net biodiversity gain achieved through the project.

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How do you get 10% biodiversity gain?

To achieve a 10% biodiversity gain, developers must create or enhance habitats in a way that increases the biodiversity units of a site by at least 10% compared to its baseline condition. This involves detailed planning, implementation of biodiversity measures, and rigorous monitoring to ensure the target is met.

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What is Biodiversity Net Gain local strategy?

A Biodiversity Net Gain local strategy involves integrating BNG principles into local planning policies and strategies. This ensures that local development projects contribute positively to biodiversity. Local authorities may set specific BNG targets, provide guidance on habitat creation, and support the implementation of BNG through planning processes.

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What are the legal requirements for Biodiversity Net Gain in the UK?

In the UK, the Environment Bill mandates that all new developments must achieve at least a 10% net gain in biodiversity from 2023. This requirement ensures that development projects contribute positively to the natural environment.

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What are the benefits of Biodiversity Net Gain for developers?

Biodiversity Net Gain can increase property values, reduce environmental compliance risks, and enhance brand reputation. It also helps developers meet regulatory requirements and contribute to sustainable development goals.

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What are some examples of Biodiversity Net Gain practices?

Examples of Biodiversity Net Gain practices include creating new wetlands, restoring degraded habitats, planting native vegetation, and incorporating green infrastructure like green roofs and wildlife corridors into development projects.

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How can developers ensure long-term success of Biodiversity Net Gain projects?

To ensure long-term success, developers should establish conservation covenants, develop detailed management plans, and engage in ongoing monitoring and adaptive management to maintain and enhance biodiversity gains.

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Are there international examples of Biodiversity Net Gain implementation?

Yes, countries like Australia and regions like the European Union have implemented Biodiversity Net Gain policies. These policies aim to offset biodiversity losses by creating or enhancing habitats, ensuring a net positive impact on biodiversity.


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