WSP|Parsons Brinckerhoff has called for the public and private sector to do more to protect the UK's biodiversity.

In a report, the consultancy advocates the concept of biodiversity net gain, under which any damages to wildlife caused by human activity can be balanced with an equivalent gain.

It says achieving this balance entails developments avoiding, minimising or restoring damage. When these options are not possible, offsite offsetting should be practised, whereby new biodiversity needs are created in another location. The effect will be a positive or ‘net gain’ for the environment from the development.

WSP|Parsons Brinckerhoff surveyed 200 environmental professionals for the study, including NGOs, contractors, consultants, local planning authorities, academics and national government bodies. It found that 40% had used a biodiversity net gain approach. By contrast, 29% had used biodiversity offsetting, a figure which suggests the method is considered a last resort, said the consultancy, even if it is being deployed correctly. Overall, 52% of those polled felt biodiversity offsetting would be helpful or very helpful in achieving biodiversity net gain.

‘Developments including infrastructure projects 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,’ said technical director for ecology Mark Webb. He suggested the UK could catch up by making biodiversity net gain an obligatory part of the National Planning Policy Framework.

The report also recommends incorporating the concept into Defra’s forthcoming 25-year plan; developing consistent understanding of it at a local level; and revising existing guidance by tightening the offsetting metric used to measure the gain, while maintaining its simplicity. ‘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,’ Webb said.