Biodiversity Net Gain
Everything that we do has an impact on the environment, and therefore on the biodiversity that depends upon that environment.
One of the most significant impacts is building. Whether it is new residential developments, industrial units or infrastructure, all have the potential to destroy existing habitats and the species that live there.
The Government's current guidance requires local planning authorities to seek opportunities to conserve and enhance the natural environment.
In practice this means that, when deciding planning applications, councils will consider the impact that the development is likely to have on biodiversity and demand that any impact is avoided, minimised, mitigated or that compensation is provided.
For example, there may be Slow Worms present on some old allotments where a developer wants to build a housing estate. The council should insist that suitable habitat is left for the reptiles or that they are moved elsewhere and appropriate habitat is created for them. This situation could be considered to provide 'no net loss' of biodiversity.
Increasingly, councils are asking developers to provide Biodiversity Net Gain.
Imagine an arable field crossed by a couple of hedges on which a developer would like to build houses. Before applying for planning permission the developer employs an ecologist to 'calculate' how much biodiversity is present on the site and what is likely to be left afterwards. The developer will have to demonstrate that what remains will be better than what was there before. This could be by creating wildflower-rich meadows, planting more hedges or installing a wildlife pond.
In order to ensure that the Biodiversity Net Gain concept makes a significant difference to the UK's wildlife, it will be vital to ensure that the 'gain' is quantified and sufficient to offset the damage - one extra tree is unlikely to be enough. The scheme should be well designed and suitable management put in place to ensure that the gain is maintained well into the future. An appropriate body must have the ability to monitor the scheme and take action where follow-up work is required.
Some businesses are already embracing Biodiversity Net Gain, and the concept should be enshrined in the new Environment Act. Hopefully, this will start to reverse the dramatic decline in biodiversity that we have seen in recent decades.