The first episode of Sir David Attenborough’s latest documentary called ‘Wild Isles’ was broadcast on BBC1 on Sunday 12 March 2023 and highlighted some of the stunning wildlife that still exists in the UK. From Otters, Deer and even Orca, the UK has some amazing sights to offer that must be protected.
The programme also highlighted some really alarming statistics about the loss of habitats and wildlife in the UK and – even more alarmingly, it revealed that most people in the UK have no idea how bad things really are.
Producers revealed the results from YouGov poll that showed 76% of people are worried about the condition of nature in the UK, yet only 5% of people rated the UK as one of the worst countries for protecting nature, while 55% said they thought the UK was doing as well as the rest of the world or better. However, according to the Living Planet Index produced by the Natural History Museum – the truth is that the UK is in the bottom 10% of countries globally for protecting nature!
The following statistics* really do underline the importance of planning policies and the adoption of measures outlined under The Environment Act 2021 and the proposals under Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG).
- 40% of UK population species have declined since 1970
- 38m birds have vanished from UK skies over the last 50 years
- 97% of wildflower meadows have been lost since the 1930s
- 25% of our mammals are at risk of extinction.
So we must do more if we are to protect the earth we live on – which is why the Government is so committed to pressing forward with the Environment Bill and the proposals for BNG.
What is biodiversity net gain (BNG)?
Most developers and land owners will no doubt be already aware of BNG, so in this article we hope to re-iterate:
- Why BNG is so important
- Raise awareness of the likely legal obligations when BNG finally becomes law in November 2023
- Provide a summary of the document issued in February 2023 following the outcome of the consultation process
- Explain how the needs of developers and BNG can be balanced sensitively – particularly when working with experts like ourselves who understand both sides of the issue.
If you need a recap on what BNG aims to achieve and how it is shaping the future of construction there are several articles on our website which will explain further. In a nutshell, Biodiversity Net Gain is an approach to terrestrial development and/or land management that aims to leave the natural environment in a measurably better state, mitigating any potential ecological damage resulting from a new development.
What are your legal obligations?
Under the Environment Act 2021, all planning permissions granted in England (with a few exemptions) will have to deliver at least 10% biodiversity net gain from an as yet unconfirmed date in November 2023. BNG will be measured using Defra’s biodiversity metric and habitats will need to be secured for at least 30 years.
Key points from the consultation document
On 23 February 2023 the Government issued its response to the proposals following consultations with attendees at stakeholder workshops that included local planning authorities, non-governmental organisations, developers, consultancies, professional institutes, academics and wider industry.
All schemes will have to provide a Biodiversity Gain Plan (BGP) together with the DEFRA Metric. This document will explain the onsite and offsite measures that are to be implemented so that the scheme meets BNG. Core information to be included in the BGP will be:
- The pre-development biodiversity value
- The proposed approach to enhancing biodiversity on-site
- Any proposed off-site biodiversity enhancements (including the use of statutory credits) that have been planned or arranged for the development
A summary BNG statement and metric will be required at application stage and the full BGP provided prior to commencement of the development.
- The full implementation of the Environment Act and its requirements for mandatory net gain of 10% for all development schemes will start in November 2023, although there will be an extended transition period for small sites has been proposed until April 2024
- The Government’s responses to the consultation on the DEFRA Metric are still unknown
- There will be a ‘credits’ basis in which landowners will be able to ‘sell’ land suitable for use to create BNG to developers/builders that does not need to be part of the area proposed for development
- Updates will be made to the Biodiversity Gain Plan and Habitat Management and Monitoring Plan templates and guidance will be published, but still no date as to when this will be.
The following articles may also be useful:
- Natural England – A guide to BNG
- Local Government Association – Guide to Environment Act 2021
- Government Consultation outcome – Full Report
How EMEC can help?
Our role as the environmental consultant is as much about protecting habitats as it is about offering added value advice to the developer so that the communities they create do incorporate diversity. By engaging with ecologists or land managers and incorporating biodiversity into a scheme at the early stages of the development, all parties can play a crucial part of creating high quality places for people to live and work and we can play our part in helping to protect the UK wildlife and our planet.
We need to get beyond the place whereby ecologists and developers are pitched on opposite sides of the table to one where the ecologist is working alongside the developer in a constructive and creative dialogue, to identify opportunities and ambitions to not only achieve the 10% BNG legal minimum, but go beyond, where possible.
Please get in touch if we can help.