Protecting biodiversity promotes a healthy and cohesive environment. In recent decades, the damage to the world’s biodiversity has become strikingly apparent, with governments now seeking to both limit and reverse the damage caused to biodiversity by human activities.
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Protecting fragile ecosystems and the plants and animals that depend upon them is a critical undertaking that requires forward-thinking legislation at a local, regional, and international level. This article will explore Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) a UK-based initiative that affects planning permission.
The Importance of Protecting Biodiversity
Biodiversity refers to how many species live in a particular ecosystem, including plants, animals, fungi, and microorganisms. The more species live in an ecosystem, the more varied its biodiversity is considered to be.
Human activity affects biodiversity, such as changing land use, fenland and bog draining, deforestation, urbanization, and pollution. Protecting biodiversity does not just benefit the organisms themselves; it also has a positive effect on human lives and society.
There are a number of benefits to protecting biodiversity. Firstly, biodiversity can play a key role in ensuring better food security. Promoting healthy environments with a good variety of flora, for instance, supports pollinators which in turn benefits critical food crops which rely on these pollinators.
Protecting biodiversity also helps protect against climate change, limiting carbon emissions by absorbing over half of the total global amount produced by human activity, according to the UN. It is estimated that around 86% of global wetlands, a key carbon sink, have disappeared, which is a critical issue.
Protecting biodiversity also provides key socioeconomic benefits for humans. Nearly one-tenth of the world’s population (around 1 billion people) rely on forests for their livelihoods, and over half of global GDP is reliant on biodiversity and nature.
The scale of the issue is staggering: many species have been lost already, with an estimated one million threatened with extinction, many of which could disappear within decades if something is not done about it.
What is BNG?
Biodiversity net gain (BNG) is a new strategy by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) which aims to protect and promote biodiversity and aid the recovery of nature.
BNG affects planning at both the local and national levels, and if implemented properly, developers will be able to ensure that the land is a better habitat for wildlife after development than it was before.
Who Does BNG Concern?
Traditionally, new developments have not particularly prioritized protecting the biodiversity of the local environment. Local planning authorities and developers have, understandably, prioritized providing new commercial and domestic structures for people.
BNG aims to change this way of thinking, instead making protecting the environment a priority. As such, this strategy concerns:
- Local authorities
- Land managers.
How Do the Affected Parties Register Land Under BNG?
Land managers and land agents can register land using the UK Government’s online service. Off-site units in the local area on another piece of land can be recorded by developers.
If developers are unable to use either off- or on-site units, they can record statutory credits as a last resort.
Habitat Creation and How it Counts Toward BNG
Different activities count toward the BNG. One of these is habitat creation and enhancement. However, developers, land managers, and local authorities can only use habitat creation and enhancement to count toward their BNG in specific circumstances.
This can be used to count toward BNG if:
- It complies with a statutory policy or obligation. This includes sustainable drainage, green infrastructure, and EIA compensation.
- It provides measures to manage and enhance river basins and mitigate damage under a river basin management plan (RBMP.)
- It helps to mitigate effects on protected sites and species or provides compensation for how a development impacts them. An example of this is nutrient mitigation.
At least 10% of a developer or authority’s BNG must be through activities such as on-site habitat creation. If off-site mitigation and enhancement is carried out to benefit protected species and sites, this can also count toward a developer, authority, or manager’s BNG.
Off-site units must be legally secured for at least thirty years and must be registered before they can count. Additionally, some specific circumstances exist where habitat creation or enhancement cannot be used to count toward a site’s BNG.
Firstly, these activities cannot be used if they are required for marine licensing. Secondly, they cannot be used if they are needed for remediation under regulations concerning environmental damage. Finally, if tree restocking conditions apply then habitat creation or enhancement cannot be used.
At least 10% of a BNG should be done through separate activities if RBMP mitigation is already being performed as part of the development to prevent deterioration. If RBMP enhancement is being implemented, a developer or authority will not need to do separate activities to reach the total BNG.
Getting a Site Ready for BNG
Developers, land managers, and local authorities can take these steps to prepare a site for a BNG:
- Work out the habitats needed in the local area.
- Consider how BNG and other environmental payments can be combined.
- Calculate the number of biodiversity units the site will have.
- Use a legal agreement to secure the land.
In order to qualify for BNG, the concerned parties must agree to commit to managing the habitat for at least 30 years, and a Section 106 planning obligation with an LPA is required. Alternatively, the land manager, developer, or local authority can enter into a conservation covenant with a responsible body.
In relation to protected sites such as intertidal and non-intertidal protected sites, concerned parties looking to enhance the habitat must gain consent from Natural England before any work is undertaken.
What is the Timescale?
Biodiversity Net Gain will apply from November 2023 for developments covered by the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, unless they are exempt. Small sites will require BNG from April 2024.
More from AZoBuild: Navigating Building Regulations for a Successful Project
Further Reading and More Information
HM Government (website) Biodiversity Net Gain [online] gov.uk. Available at:
United Nations (website) Biodiversity - our strongest natural defense against climate change [online] un.org. Available at: