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Time is running out to make Biodiversity Net Gain a win for nature

Tom Ash, Policy & Advocacy Officer at Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, calls on the Government to urgently publish robust and effective Biodiversity Net Gain regulations prior to mandatory BNG in November 2023, to ensure BNG delivers on its potential to help restore nature.

January 2023

Biodiversity Net Gain was a key pillar of the Environment Act 2021. It means that from November 2023 all new developments in England will be required to leave biodiversity in a measurably better state than before. It should be one of the Government’s main tools for reducing the impact of development on nature.

However, delays in publishing the response to the Consultation on Biodiversity Net Gain Regulations and Implementation, which closed on 5 April 2022, means we are without the detail on how the policy will be implemented. This leaves developers, NGOs, ecologists and others essential to delivering this policy with less time to prepare and make it a success for nature. This weakens the ability of Biodiversity Net Gain to help meet the Environment Act targets, increase access to nature, and make England more resilient to climate change by putting blue and green infrastructure where people live and work.

It has also become clear that some stakeholders, including some developers, have been pushing for Biodiversity Net Gain to be weaker than is needed to restore nature and reach the Government’s biodiversity goals. With COP15 underlining the urgency of restoring nature in the UK to meet 2030 restoration targets, now is not the time to weaken key measures like Biodiversity Net Gain but strengthen them. This means:

  • Making sure the mitigation hierarchy and the sequential approach to delivering Biodiversity Net Gain are retained. Established habitats usually provide the most benefits for nature and should be protected wherever possible. In addition, prioritising restoration or creation on or near the development site is essential to ensure green and blue space in urban areas is retained. In 2019, nature in built up areas delivered over £4 billion in health benefits, showing urban nature needs to be protected and restored.
  • Exclusions must be kept to a minimum. The 10% gain required is, in reality, only likely to offset losses due to development. Any large exemptions will mean that development continues to contribute to the loss of nature.
  • The ability of local authorities to go beyond the 10% minimum requirement must be retained. Only through higher requirements can development help restore nature.
  • Ensuring Biodiversity Net Gain remains additional to other requirements to protect nature. In particular, Biodiversity Net Gain should be additional to requirements to avoid damaging effects on protected sites. These are our most important sites for nature and are essential to recovering biodiversity. Biodiversity Net Gain must not excuse damaging or destroying them.
  • There must be adequate monitoring and enforcement. Current proposals for monitoring and enforcement, particularly for on-site gains, will not ensure that developers deliver and maintain habitats for biodiversity net gain. All on-site and off-site gains should be formally secured and registered and planning authorities properly funded to monitor them.

Biodiversity net gain has the potential to help restore nature and meet the Government’s nature restoration targets, as well as deliver billions in ecosystem services. However, this will only be achieved if the policy is implemented on time and with effective regulations.

    Tom Ash is Policy and Advocacy Officer at Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust

    Follow: @WWTworldwide

    The opinions expressed in this blog are the authors' and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.

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