​Biodiversity Net Gain – The Change Underfoot

​Biodiversity Net Gain – The Change Underfoot

By Matt Farnsworth, Chief Sustainability Officer

Change is happening right beneath our feet with the introduction of ‘Biodiversity Net Gain’ (BNG) in England from February 2024 onwards. Introduced via the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, BNG will have implications for land managers, developers, and local planning authorities (LPAs).

BNG is an alternative approach to land and marine development, where habitats must be left in a better state than they were pre-development. BNG operates in addition to existing habitat and species protection controls.

The headlines

  • Organisations and business will all have an interest in BNG, notably developers, local planning authorities (LPAs) and land managers.
  • Developers are tasked with avoiding loss of habitat on proposed development sites through constructing habitats either on-site or off-site, which result in the creation of what is termed biodiversity unit value. Business owners constructing new sites, or redeveloping existing ones, will need to review their future approaches to habitat management.
  • On-site unit generation can mean the creation of habitat or enhancement through, for example, landscaping and developing green infrastructure. Off-site unit generation will be created through similar means (e.g. via habitat banks, where habitat is created in advance, prior to loss) and typically in collaboration with public and private landowners.
  • Where on-site and off-site unit creation is not possible and as a last resort, statutory BNG credits will be available for purchase from the Government.
  • LPAs are tasked with approving BNG plans for a proposed development before it starts and they may also be involved as land managers.
  • For land managers, they may seek to register their land in England in order to qualify for the granting of off-site BNG unit payments. These units can then be issued or sold to developers that need them. This is on the understanding that a land manager also has consent to register the land (where they are not the land owner) and providing they hold legal agreements for the land being registered, with a commitment to manage the habitat for at least 30 years.

Determining biodiversity value

Land assets are initially valued through a baseline assessment, typically by a competent and qualified ecologist, using the Biodiversity Metric Tool; a tool developed to assess the extent and quality of habitats.

Once value has been established and a BNG unit can be applied for, land managers may choose to explore options for delivering net gain on their sites. This may be through habitat banking or including their land on the BNG register so that biodiversity units may be sold onto those that require them. These may be developers, local authorities, habitat bank operators, brokers or trading platforms.

Any land registered will need to be managed, monitored and reported on for the duration of the net gain agreement.

The opportunity

For land managers and owners there are clear opportunities to baseline assess the value of land holdings; register the land to protect and enhance it for 30 years, while also securing payment from developers for the land’s ongoing biodiversity management.

However, the benefits for nature and society are far wider.

First and foremost is the impact on nature. Having more land set aside for nature that is better connected and protected can only bring positive benefits for wildlife. In turn these areas offer enhanced access to nature, promoting health and wellbeing among users and local communities.

Increasing interest and involvement in protection and enhancement leads to job creation and more attractive places to live, while increasing land habitat banks and developing nature-based solutions assists with how we all adapt to climate change and approach net zero targets.

What we can do to help

Through the work of the Enva Foundation and our remedial services, we are keen to have conversations with potential partners on how and where we can assist in the restoration of degraded and damaged land to aid re-development and habitat creation.

So are you ready for BNG? If you are a business or land manager / owner with habitats and land degraded by human activity, perhaps we can tackle the issues together.