James Hewetson-Brown, managing director of Wildflower Turf ltd explains what biodiversity net gain is and the impacts it will have on our industry.
Biodiversity loss is up there with climate change as an issue to concern us all. Economic models, such as Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics recognise the loss of biodiversity as an economic disaster. If present indifference to the biodiversity loss continues, she argues that this will undermine our future economic development on a worldwide scale.
The message is an urgent need to understand that the economy IS the environment. If we lose biodiversity, air and water quality and other essential resources we will not have an economy to worry about.
There are many initiatives in the UK with the objective of supporting and enhancing biodiversity to benefit wildlife and society. The most recent is Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG).
What is Biodiversity Net Gain?
At the time of writing, an election is looming and so all of the detail below is suspended until a new government is in place. However the principles and direction described are likely to remain.
The Environment Bill (2019-2020) aims to improve society’s care and awareness of water and air quality and resource use/waste reduction. BNG is a section within the Bill that concentrates on biodiversity within the built environment, targeting new development.
In simple terms, biodiversity net gain (BNG) aims to ensure that with any new development, on-site biodiversity is first assessed and recorded and once work is complete, the developer must prove that the recorded level of biodiversity has been enhanced by a minimum of 10%. This commitment will be mandatory as part of the planning system. The process of assessing and delivering this objective isn’t that straightforward. In layman’s terms, the developer has to build in biodiversity any way they see fit and the results will be assessed by a series of metrics based on species diversity, the quality of the reinstatement work and the time it takes to achieve it. The really significant change in this initiative is that the site will then be audited for 30 years after completion.
The UKs brand of being a Green and Pleasant Land is at threat from biodiversity loss
The last details that go into working out the metric are being finalised now and in 2020 a two year transition period will start before the mandatory, audited scheme begins. However, to their credit, a number of developers are already adopting the principles of the scheme.
So in 2022 after the review of the consultation into BNG (and subject to the upcoming election when BNG or something like it is likely to be reintroduced):
- The BNG metric will become law and part of planning permission.
- Applicable development projects will have to enhance biodiversity by 10% and this improvement will be audited after completion and for the next 30 years.
- The Environment Bill gives three options for achieving BNG – onsite (preferred), offsite (at a registered site, such as a habitat bank) or through biodiversity credits purchased from the Secretary of State.
Will it have a significant impact?
BNG could see a significant improvement in the UK’s biodiversity. In an ideal world, we will see new developments providing oases of biodiverse refuge for wildlife. These will link with others across the country to form a network of species rich and wildlife friendly habitats.
The impact of BNG will be significant and positive. In the past only committed individual projects have given genuine benefit to biodiversity (for example the 2012 Olympic site). Establishing a species rich habitat enhances biodiversity and provides food and homes for wildlife, from bugs and invertebrates at the bottom of the food chain, through to the predators at the top of the food chain.
And wildflowers have a major role to play. They are a species rich habitat and therefore offer the ‘diversity’ bit of ‘biodiversity’. A typical wildflower space will have from 20 to 60 species in a given area. Using modern techniques to establish a meadow will speed up the establishment process and provide longevity, so should be recognised in the metric.
Species Rich Urban Green Infrastructure at its best
Species rich habitat will attract all sorts of wildlife
All stakeholders need to be engaged in the aims of BNG for it to deliver real success. Get BNG right and there will be many beneficiaries. The developers and landscape professionals can be safe in the knowledge that they have done their bit for nature and society. Communities will have green space and all the health and wellbeing benefits this brings. And wildlife will be thrown a lifeline in their ever increasingly fragile world. This initiative, if undertaken in a positive way, will deliver the shift in mind set needed to see genuine improvements in biodiversity and wildlife to make nature the ‘new normal’ for many years to come, after many years of suppression.