All major housing developments in England will be required by law to deliver at least a 10% increase in biodiversity under new rules that came into force today.
The biodiversity net gain (BNG) requirement, introduced through the Environment Act, is a world first, and is key to fulfilling the government’s target to halt species decline by 2030.
Developers will be obliged to avoid harm to nature, but if that’s not possible, they must create new habitats or enhance existing ones, either within the site itself or by investing in nature sites elsewhere.
Local authorities will help enforce the new rules, and will be given £10.6m of funding to recruit and expand ecologist teams. BNG requirements for smaller sites will come into force in April.
Environment minister, Rebecca Pow, said: “BNG will help us deliver the beautiful homes the country needs, support wildlife and create great places for people to live.
“This government is going further and faster for nature, since 2010 we have restored an area for nature larger than the size of Dorset, banned micro plastics and set ambitious targets to halt biodiversity decline.
“This vital tool builds on our work to reverse the decline in nature and for everyone to live within a 15-minute walk of a green space or water and will transform how development and nature can work together to benefit communities.”
If biodiversity cannot be increased on-site, developers can purchase off-site biodiversity units from landowners via a private market, which will be tracked through a digital register maintained by Natural England.
As a last resort, developers can purchase statutory biodiversity credits from the government to prevent delays in the planning system.
Significant on-site, and all off-site gains, will need a legal agreement with a responsible body or local authority to monitor the habitat improvements over a 30-year period.
Lesley Wilson, IEMA's policy and engagement lead for biodiversity and natural capital, commented: "The introduction of BNG is full of potential to improve outcomes for nature, but it’s important that developers and local authorities work as allies to put the right habitat in the right place.
"The process might not be perfect from the start, but if it’s managed well, then this can be a key driver to deliver the nature restoration we need."
Learn more about the BNG requirements by reading her latest blog here: IEMA - Biodiversity Net Gain arrives in England
IEMA has also published a report on BNG best practice here: IEMA - Biodiversity Net Gain - Good Practice Insights - July 2023
You can watch IEMA webinars on BNG here:
Image credit: Shutterstock