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Biodiversity - Your Gain is Our Gain

09 September 2016 | Updated 01 January 1970
 

A commitment that new developments should enhance, rather than endanger, nature is necessary if the UK is to meet its goal of reversing long term biodiversity loss by 2020, according to a new report by global consultancy WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff.

The report, Biodiversity net gain – A new role for infrastructure and development in improving Britain’s wildlife, calls for the public and private sector to do more to protect the UK’s wildlife and their habitats. In particular, it focuses on the concept of biodiversity net gain, where any damages caused by human activity to wildlife can be balanced with an equivalent gain.

To achieve this balance developments can avoid, minimise or restore damage made to wildlife. As a last resort where these options are impossible, offsite 'offsetting' can occur, where new biodiversity needs to be created in another location. This means there will be still be a positive or 'net gain' for the environment as a result of the development.

The biodiversity net gain approach is increasingly used in the UK but still has a long way to go. A WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff survey of 200 environmental professionals from various backgrounds (including NGOs, contractors, consultants, LPAs, academics and national government bodies) found two in five (40%) of respondents had used a biodiversity net gain approach. However, only 29% used biodiversity offsetting, suggesting it was being correctly used as a last resort after other measures.

 

The survey also found:

Over half of survey respondents (52%) felt that biodiversity offsetting was helpful or very helpful in achieving biodiversity net gain. Only 4% felt this approach was unhelpful.

Fewer than 1% of respondents had a negative view of biodiversity net gain.

Although (73%) of respondents were aware of biodiversity net gain and biodiversity offsetting (77%), half had mixed views or were unsure of their views, suggesting a lack of understanding of these approaches.

Technical director for ecology Mark Webb said: “Developments including infrastructure projects absolutely can enhance rather than endanger biodiversity. Net gain is growing in the UK, which has committed to reverse biodiversity loss by 2020, but we are behind other nations including Australia, Germany and the US. To catch up biodiversity net gain could become an obligatory part of the National Planning Policy Framework and current guidance could be further tightened and simplified. The key challenge in the UK is to raise awareness, improve understanding of the approach across the public and private sector, and ensure a level playing field for regulation application locally.”

 

The report contains six practical recommendations to put biodiversity net gain at the heart of UK development:

  • Biodiversity net gain and the use of the DEFRA metric could be an obligatory part of the National Planning Policy Framework.

  • Biodiversity net gain could be incorporated into DEFRA’s forthcoming 25 year environment plan.

  • The most recent DEFRA guidance for biodiversity offsetting could be revised, with the offsetting metric used to measure biodiversity net gain tightened, whilst maintaining simplicity.

  • Creating a consistent understanding of guidance at a local level could create a level playing field for developers.

  • Biodiversity net gain could be incorporated at a corporate level and in private sector developments.

  • Collaboration to build an evidence base of the long term performance of biodiversity net gain developments.

Picture: A report, Biodiversity net gain – A new role for infrastructure and development in improving Britain’s wildlife, calls for the public and private sector to do more to protect the UK’s wildlife and their habitats

Article written by Cathryn Ellis | Published 09 September 2016

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