Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) is coming, and it’s coming fast. With it comes huge opportunity and significant risk. Either way, it’ll be one of the biggest changes to UK conservation funding for decades. So what is it?
BNG is due to be made mandatory under the new Environment Bill this year, and it means that developers who want to build houses, will – for the first time – have to “leave biodiversity in a better state than [they] found it”.
This means that they will have to quantify their anticipated impact on our plants, animals and habitats as part of their planning application, and come up with, and subsequently fund, a long-term plan that can deliver at least 10% more of the species and habitats that they are going to negatively affect either on-site (via the “mitigation hierarchy”) where they are building, or (if they cannot do this) then they must do so somewhere else with comparable habitat or potential to create comparable habitat. This is known as off-site delivery or offsetting.
BNG is loaded with technical terminology that I am doing my best to avoid here – although you can fill your boots with it by visiting the CIEEM website as it explains the UK BNG scheme in greater detail.
Application of the mitigation hierarchy is going to be key if BNG is going to work for wildlife rather than for developers. This is, quite frankly, something we are still wrestling with.
If a given developer doesn’t systematically look at how they can avoid impacts (including, critically, off-site ones like pollution, and their contribution to cumulative ones e.g. human disturbance to nearby wildlife sites); minimise those that they cannot avoid; and then restore as much of said damage as possible within the footprint of the development, prior to looking at what they need to do elsewhere through offsetting, then it probably won’t result in a net gain at all. Therefore, success depends on how BNG is interpreted and applied by a whole suite of people from developers to ecological consultants, local government and statutory bodies.
The theory behind BNG is reasonably solid [unless you subscribe to the view that putting a value on nature is inherently a losing game as some well-informed people do] and the intent behind it is pretty clear: to try and reverse loss of nature due to development.