Dr Abigail Barker, Chief Operating Officer at Natural Capital Research talks of the importance of benchmarking biodiversity.
Biodiversity is now regarded as critical natural capital asset by government – enshrined in policy and a mandatory condition of planning permission in the 2019 Environment Bill. Government house building targets remain aggressive – still pegged at 300,000 per year by the mid-2020s – and this will mean that whether those targets are specifically reached, many thousand hectares of land will be developed for housing, often impinging on formerly rural plots.
Policymakers, mindful of the impact on biodiversity, have put rules in place designed to maintain, or even improve, biodiversity stocks. Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) is a set of rules and requirements outlined in the 25 Year Environment Plan and made compulsory in the Environment Bill. BNG mandates a 10% increase in biodiversity post-development, when benchmarked against biodiversity metrics taken before the site is developed. A growing number of local authority planning departments have already voluntarily adopted the measure – a good example is that in Manchester.
The big issue for developers is to have benchmark measurements – before, after and ongoing – which are based on the most robust science and academic rigour. They must also align with government-approved methodologies. Failure to offer such evidential robustness leaves developers open to challenge by regulatory authorities and potential financial penalties.
Here at Natural Capital Research, those are the principles that we have followed in developing our NatCap Map system for benchmarking biodiversity. Housing developers looking for a suitable system of benchmarking should be confident that their solution can stand up to the detailed levels of scrutiny that we have gone through when testing our models.