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25.08.2023

Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) – What you need to know

BNG, or biodiversity net gain can help improve the UK's ecosystem

What is BNG?

You might have heard about BNG, or Biodiversity Net Gain, but what does it actually mean? The definition of BNG is a new approach to land development and management that results in a net gain of biodiversity, hence the name. It will ensure that the habitat for wildlife is even better than it was before the development took place. It is an approach that seeks to balance the need for development with the preservation and enhancement of natural habitats and species. Therefore, if an individual intends to construct or develop a piece of land, they must guarantee the prevention of biodiversity loss due to the development while also achieving a net gain in biodiversity.

A butterfly on some flowers

Currently, the aim is to increase biodiversity by at least 10%. From November 2023, BNG will apply to all developments that are subject to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. BNG will also apply to smaller sites from April 2024. BNG is a part of the Environment Act 2021 which aims to improve the quality of our air and water, reduce plastic waste and increase recycling, as well as other environmental issues.

Why does the UK need BNG?

A great crested newt, a endangered species in the UK.

As you may know, much of the UK’s wildlife has had its habitat encroached on by urbanisation and industrial development. This has resulted in a lack of biodiversity in the UK, which affects the entire ecosystem including our food production. The most recent State of Nature report, published in 2019, revealed that wildlife in the UK has been reduced by 13%. It is no longer just enough to prevent the depletion of habitat for wildlife, we must take active steps to increase these wild spaces where the animals, birds, insects, plants and countless microorganisms that make up the wildlife of the UK can thrive.

The benefits of BNG

BNG offers many benefits to the UK, including:

  • Improved ecosystem services, such as pollination and natural pest control for crop farmers
  • Reduced risk of flooding
  • Carbon sequestration 
  • Reduced pollution levels
  • Better air quality

BNG also offers improved quality of life through the introduction of community green spaces. Areas like this offer residents benefits like improved views, local areas to walk and explore nature in, and the myriad health benefits that come with spending more time in nature.

How will BNG work?

In order to get planning permission for new developments, they will all need to deliver at least a 10% biodiversity net gain. Land developers can do this by onsite and offsite measures. Firstly, land developers must avoid the loss of habitat to any piece of land they are planning to develop. If this is unavoidable, then they must create a habitat either onsite or off-site. If onsite habitat development is not possible, they will need to use offsite land they already own. When they do not own any suitable land, they can purchase biodiversity units from a landowner or land manager. Buying these biodiversity units, or statutory biodiversity credits, should be a last resort. They must only used when the first two options are not available. This is known as the mitigation hierarchy. We can calculate the number of credits needed to fulfil BNG using the biodiversity metric 4.0.

BNG will need to be included in all land development plans from November 2023.

Who is affected by BNG?

Land Developers

BNG primarily impacts land developers, as they must take measures to achieve a 10% biodiversity net gain on all new land development projects. There are some exceptions, such as householder or small-scale residential developments, and land developments on brownfield sites (former industrial sites with no habitat present). The following are also exempt:

  • Nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs)
  • Marine development (the government is working separately to define an approach to marine net gain)
  • Irreplaceable habitat sites (such as ancient woodland, sand dunes and salt marsh) that cannot be developed at all, save for steps taken to improve the habitat
Planning permission documents will need to include a biodiversity gain plan.

Developers will have to produce a document called a biodiversity gain plan. This will explain how a potential land development will deliver biodiversity net gain. It will be submitted with planning permission documents to the relevant local authority. The government is in the process of drafting a template for biodiversity gain plans.

Local Authorities

BNG will affect local authorities when granting planning permission for developments. The Environment Act 2021 details what local authorities need to take into consideration:

  • How negative impacts on habitats can be reduced or minimised
  • The site’s pre-development biodiversity value
  • The site’s post-development biodiversity value
  • The biodiversity value of any offsite habitat relating to the development;
  • Any statutory biodiversity credits purchased
  • Any further requirements as set out in secondary legislation

Landowners

Landowners or land managers will also be affected, as they can offer biodiversity units to land developers. Landowners can work with developers directly or with local authorities to create or enhance habitats on their land which will offset any biodiversity loss as a result of land development. It works kind of like carbon credits, where businesses can offset their carbon emissions by purchasing credits from another organisation. In order to sell these biodiversity units, landowners must:

  • Discover the necessary steps to enhance the habitat on your land
  • Commit to stewardship of the land for a minimum of 30 years
  • Register the land as a biodiversity gain site

Who needs BNG?

Snake's head fritillary, a wildflower of the UK.

In a very real way, we all need BNG, as it is a vital step in improving the biodiversity of the UK and the whole world. We are dependent on the earth’s ecosystem to provide us with food, water and air, so it’s in our best interest to take care of it. Destruction of habitats can and already has led to the extinction of animal, insect and plant species. Not to mention poor soil health and topsoil erosion, poor air and water quality, and an increase in carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. If managed and administered correctly, BNG could help native species to thrive, improve our environment, and strike an important blow against climate change.

How We Can Help

My Square Metre has actively worked on creating and enhancing wildlife habitats to enhance biodiversity. We are pleased to extend this service to land developers aiming to achieve their BNG targets. While we specialise in wildflower meadows, we also have experience with tree and hedgerow planting, reed beds and pond work in addition to our extensive knowledge of meadows and grasslands.

The My Square Metre wildflower meadow

We can work with your practice to help replace any biodiversity loss that might result from a development project. We can find a bespoke site near your project and look after it for 30 years, even if it’s on a patch of land you already own, or work with you to find some suitable land offsite. 

Each project of ours is bespoke and we aim to outdo any net gain predictions through high-quality management of any site we manage. We created our company with a mission in mind to create safe havens for nature, and we would love to partner with you to achieve that goal. 

With this approach not only will we be providing high-quality habitat, but it will very likely come at a lower price point than other statutory units, and with better outcomes too. Interested? Get in touch with us at our contact page or email us at hello@MySquareMetre.co.uk with the subject title ‘BNG’. 

Sources: 

Nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.aax0903 

Why is Nature Beneficial? The Role of Connectedness to Nature https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0013916508319745 

Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-44097-3 

State of Nature Report https://nbn.org.uk/stateofnature2019/ 

https://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/6049804846366720 The Biodiversity Metric 4.0

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/biodiversity-metric-calculate-the-biodiversity-net-gain-of-a-project-or-development Using the biodiversity metric
https://www.gov.uk/guidance/sell-biodiversity-units-as-a-land-manager Guidance for landowners

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