Biodiversity Net Gain, what is it and why is it important?

Biodiversity net gain (BNG) is the end result of a process applied to infrastructure development so that overall, there is a more positive outcome for biodiversity. The process itself follows the mitigation hierarchy, which sets out that everything possible must be done to first avoid and then minimise and restore/rehabilitate losses of biodiversity on site.

Adopting a BNG approach can account for biodiversity losses not fully covered by legal and planning systems. Whilst some species are extensively protected, many are not; with the consequence that development can be ‘legally compliant’ but still result in biodiversity loss. The BNG approach guards against this, enabling development to contribute towards the national and global target of halting biodiversity loss by 2020 and towards local and national strategies for conserving and enhancing wildlife. 

What is Natural Capital?

5 pillars of Biodiversity, greenspace, priority habitats, natural resources

“Natural capital is the sum of our ecosystems, species, freshwater, land, soils, minerals, our air and our seas. These are all elements of nature that either directly or indirectly bring value to people and the country at large. They do this in many ways but chiefly by providing us with food, clean air and water, wildlife, energy, wood, reaction and protection from hazards.” (HM government, 2018, p. 19)

What do the 5 pillars of Natural Capital Provide?

Ecosystem and abiotic services such as Food and timber, flood risk reduction, air purification, air purification, climate regulation, water quality regulation, recreation. These provide a range Benefits to business and to society, a healthier planet, healthier people, reduced risks from extreme weather and reduced cost to business and society.

What is ‘Natural Capital Approach’?

A natural capital approach is essentially about thinking of nature as an asset or set of assets that benefit people, it provides frame work for incorporating the value of nature into decision making and revealing the cost of its degradation. Defra published new guidance on enabling the natural capital approach ENCA Natural Capital Approach with Guidance tools case studies templates data books etc.

When should Natural capital be assessed?

Defra and HM recommend to undertake a natural capital assessment on the following screening questions.

  • Is a project/proposal likely to have any effects on the use or management of land in the UK?
  • Is it likely to affect the atmosphere in anyway?
  • Is it likely to affect any type of inland, coastal or marine waterbody?
  • Is it likely to have any effect on wildlife?
  • Is it likely to have a significant effect on the supply of raw materials from natural resources?
  • Is it likely to affect opportunities for outdoor recreation?

Further analysis is recommended when the answer is yes or possibly to at least 2 questions.

Natural capital is in decline

As the produced and human capital increases, natural capital has been decreasing, this is due to the degradation of natural capital. Evidence from a study from UK National ecosystem assessment in 2011 shows that biodiversity and natural capital are critically important to our wellbeing and economic prosperity but consistently undervalued in decision-making. 30% of ecosystems are declining in to a reduced or degraded state. Climate change and population growth are likely to increase pressure on ecosystems in the future. It’s important that the impacts on natural capital are understood so we can make the best choices for society now and for future generations.

So Why should we care about BNG?

Every business and person is at least partially dependent on natural capital, examples include climate regulation, energy, pollination, materials, erosion and soil regulation, water, storm and flood protection, recreation.

Every business activity also has an impact on natural capital like greenhouse gas emissions, land management, waste, discharge to soil, groundwater discharge, water extraction and management, disturbances (e.g. noise and light).

The prosperity of the environment and society is not possible without natural capital, we have to recognise that the environment is not just a ‘good to have’- it’s essential for our wellbeing and prosperity for now and future generations.

How do we get there? Mitigation to Functional Enhancement

Planning policy was mainly aimed at mitigating negative impacts on the environment when developing infrastructure. Even if the worst negative impacts are well mitigated it can still result in the loss of environmental benefits. If we mitigate like this there a cumulative negative environmental loss, impacts from all development projects has been significant and its taking us backwards rather than forwards.

Instead we need enhancement of the current greenspace to work hard and do more for us and wildlife. This doesn’t mean we need more natural capital, it means we need to functionally enhance the greenspaces so it can be healthier and to its full potential, this also means we can create the housing and infrastructure that we need at the same time as enhancing the environment. 

What resources can we use for biodiversity net gain?

Welsh Legislation:

  • Wellbeing of future generations (wales) act 2015:

English Legislation: Defra

Enabling the natural capital approach (ENCA) 2020/ this document contains guidance, tools, case studies, assessment templates, asset data books and services data books 

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/enabling-a-natural-capital-approach-enca

The Net Gain Planning Tool NGPT

A UK industry standard for built environment sector to objectively assess, manage and implement net benefits for the environment based on locally defined priorities and objectives;