Why invest in biodiversity?
What is Biodiversity Net Gain?
Key BNG facts
Onsite, offsite, credits or land bank?
How do I deliver Biodiversity Net Gain?
Top tips for delivering BNG
How to supercharge your BNG data
Understand the type, location and value of biodiversity on your land before work begins.
Identify working practices and offsetting opportunities that improve biodiversity.
Carry out maintenance or put in place management strategies to protect the gains.
'Biodiversity Net Gain’ isn't the most obvious phrase to get your head around. To picture it, you might find it helpful to first think about what 100% Biodiversity Net Loss would look like...
If you took a plot of land and removed all of the biodiversity on it - that is, the animals, plants and other life (fungi, bacteria etc) - for example by bleaching the soil, concreting over it then maintaining a regular regime of pesticide spraying, that would be 100% Biodiversity Net Loss. It would also be a truly awful idea.
10% net gain is the opposite - rather than losing biodiversity when land is developed, we actually see a small improvement in the amount and diversity of wildlife on site or in the local area. For example, a new wildflower meadow could be planted by the car park, a pond could be created nearby, and the development could use swift bricks in the walls to provide nesting places for these birds. The biodiversity destroyed by the new housing would be evened out by all those interventions, and then a little bit of extra biodiversity - 10% (or more) - would be added on top.
You might have noticed that we’ve referred to delivering net gain on site and off site (offsets). The new rules account for the fact that it is difficult to deliver BNG at certain sites, so what are all your options?
This is usually the cheapest way to deliver biodiversity net gain, as you already own the land. You can create new habitats within its footprint and improve or restore existing habitats to hit that BNG target.
We’ve often seen developers advised that onsite BNG is impossible when, with a little creative thinking, it’s very easy to achieve. What’s more, adding to the biodiversity on site is good for your client, improving the health and wellbeing of those who will use the area.
According to Natural England, local planning authorities tend to prefer onsite BNG rather than offsets. This means you’ll be more likely to get an application approved with onsite BNG.
You’re also allowed to deliver biodiversity net gain locally, off site.
If you own land nearby, or form a partnership with an organisation which does (see also Land Banks), you can offset the damage done to the onsite ecosystem by improving offsite biodiversity.
You’ll still need to deliver 10% net gain, so the total biodiversity after the project has finished across the two sites will need to be at least 10% higher than when you started.
Your third option, which the government has deliberately priced at a premium to discourage its use, is buying biodiversity credits.
Credits make the whole process much easier as, although you’ll still need to keep track of your onsite biodiversity, you won’t need to coordinate with a second site or deliver an uplift, only buy enough credits to deliver 10% net gain. These credits will be sold by organisations that make it their business to improve biodiversity at sites across the UK.
As they’re such an easy solution to use, and don’t encourage developers to think as hard about mitigation, Natural England suggests that it may be harder to get a planning application through with credits. Improper use may also lead to accusations of greenwashing, so be warned that they may pose a PR risk.
There’s actually a fourth option which isn’t widely-publicised and falls between the other camps – land banks.
These are plots of land that are bought up and restored, with a view to selling the biodiversity uplift on the market to developers at a later date. They’re not credits, so they aren’t as expensive, and there may be plots local to your project, which helps keep the planning authority happy.
However, with land banks, there’s no guarantee they’ll exist nearby, or be big enough to offset your project. The land must have been bought and restored with the stated goal of delivering BNG, and this should be measured. These sites lack the sales benefits of delivering net gain on site or the PR boost of doing your own offsite work.
We’ve picked up some great tips from industry insiders on how to deliver biodiversity net gain efficiently.
The economist Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta said ‘it is less costly to conserve Nature than it is to restore it’ – it’s a common mantra in conservation and it’s likely to apply to your site.
The Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) recommends that your first step should be to focus on avoidance – what can you do to reduce your ecological footprint during site works and the resulting site’s impact on the environment?
Be aware that there may be irreplaceable biodiversity onsite which could be hard or impossible to offset elsewhere – a good baseline survey from a reputable ecological consultancy should identify this for you and avoid a PR disaster!
If you’re trying to create new habitat, it’s better to make something which is going to last rather than manufacturing an ecosystem which isn’t suitable for the surrounding environment and will need a lot of upkeep to avoid falling quickly into a degraded state.
Sometimes ‘lower value’ habitats like extensive chalk grassland may simply be more sustainable as they’re suitable for the local soils and easier to maintain. It’s worth thinking about this legacy, as it will impact the public’s perception of your brand and the likelihood that your projects will be approved in the future.
Rewilding is a process of identifying a landscape’s naturally-occurring ecosystem and putting in place cheap or free management practices to maintain this habitat. It is often the most efficient way to protect biodiversity over the 30 year period.
Net gain isn’t just about installing bat boxes or creating new wildflower meadows – you can greatly improve the value of a block of habitat to wildlife by connecting it to another similar block.
This means your land can really add to local biodiversity by acting as a missing puzzle piece or ‘wildlife corridor’. For example, connecting two neighbouring woodlands by planting a belt of native trees on your land will be fantastic for local bird populations.
There are hidden ways to unlock biodiversity net gain like this that you might not have thought about – getting an ecologist in at the planning stage can help you understand the potential of a site.
BNG might sound like a bit of a headache at this point, but it can actually help you sell property, particularly if you’re savvy with the marketing. There’s a demand for greener building practises in both the residential and commercial sectors – Savills recommended in 2021 that developers focus more on green projects.
Biodiversity is the most visible aspect of green building – it’s much easier to see a wildflower meadow or a pond than good insulation – and it looks great in brochures, too, with images of wildlife-rich surroundings improving the marketability of a property.
Biodiversity-positive structures like swift bricks, bat boxes and bee bricks have also been embraced with enthusiasm by the public – they can really help differentiate your project and generate good PR.
Step up your biodiversity net gain interventions and deliver more than the targets, and you could attract a premium clientele to your development.
A commercial development with a green roof appeals to a different tier of buyer who wouldn’t have taken an interest in so called ‘brown development’ sites. In fact, Savills says that these brown developments now trade at a significant discount due to their lack of environmental credentials, so investing in visible green infrastructure can make your accountant happy.
Going beyond the minimum 10% net gain or visualising your biodiversity uplift in a client-friendly way can really pay off when it comes to selling or leasing your property. Speak to us to find out more about these advanced BNG solutions.
We are always excited to take on new projects, approach unique challenges, and create novel solutions to make your rewilding objectives possible.
If you want to take on a nature restoration project or want to join our aim to accelerate rewilding, then we want to help.
Get in touch with us today and let’s talk about what we can achieve together.
ConstructionPrivate LandownersOrganisations & GovernmentUtilities
BiodiversityHabitat CreationRewilding AdvisoryGreen FintechELMs Landscape Recovery
History of Ecosulis
What is Rewilding?Principles of Rewilding
Ecosulis LtdHarwell Innovation CentreBuilding 173, Curie AvenueHarwell CampusOxfordOX11 0QGTel: 01235 612 216
Ecosulis LtdFaraday Wharf Innovation CentreHolt StreetBirminghamB7 4BBTel: 0121 250 5746
Ecosulis Ltd272 Bath StreetGlasgowG2 4JRTel: 0141 354 7699
Ecosulis LtdBritannia HouseCaerphilly Business ParkCardiffCF83 3GGTel: 02921 679 141
Ecosulis Ltd3rd Floor86-90 Paul StreetLondonEC2A 4NETel: 020 3974 2548
Ecosulis LtdLeiston Enterprise CentreEastlands Industrial EstateLeistonSuffolkIP16 4USTel: 01235 612 216
Company Number 03724176.