We have been modeling the relative costs of delivering biodiversity net gain (BNG) either onsite, ie within the development site boundary, or offsite through habitat banks, the latter conforming to biodiversity offsetting. It becomes blatantly obvious through this analysis that the vast majority of biodiversity net gain will have to be delivered offsite by providers (landowners, farmers, conservation bodies) if the mechanism is to be economically acceptable.
Whilst some may be wedded to delivering biodiversity within the development site boundary in order to satisfy some notion of social value, as I’ve said many times before, this makes very limited ecological sense beyond a certain small percentage of the overall BNG requirement, and precludes substantial investment into the wider natural environment that would generate much greater biodiversity value. So we need to look to offsite areas at scale to satisfy the demand for ‘conservation credits’ generated by future development.
We Need to Keep Standards High Across the Board
Wherever such ‘offset’ sites are created, they need to be underpinned by high standards. We are aware that there are some ecological consultants who are promoting biodiversity offsetting as very basic offsite compensation delivery. These usually lack consistent criteria in terms of efficacy of creation and have no mechanism for long-term (25+ years) management. We believe this would undermine efforts to deliver large-scale habitat banks that really will make a transformational change in how the countryside looks and the species for which it provides habitat. Investment at a substantial scale is required in order to restore biodiversity in the UK. Mandated BNG will provide the environment within which that investment can be secured without unduly burdening the developer.
Webinars and Steering Group
We are therefore intending to establish biodiversity net gain and offsetting webinars and training events in order to embed standards in delivery of sites. We are also building on the international offsetting standards produced by the Business and Biodiversity Offsetting Partnership (BBOP), and establishing a National Steering Group for the UK setting out the science, creation and management standards, and legal delivery requirements for habitat banks.
As interest is escalating in the role that habitat banks will play in delivering BNG we need consistency, certainty and standard setting in order to underpin an appropriate and vibrant market in sites from which conservation credits are generated through habitat creation and management interventions. This standard is important in order to attract third party investors into the market place and to provide realistic expectations and income streams for habitat bank providers.
Professor David Hill CBE
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David is chairman and founding owner of The Environment Bank Ltd which he set up in 2006 to introduce the concept of compensation, via biodiversity offsetting and habitat banking, into the UK because of his concerns at the way biodiversity was treated within the planning and development sector.
David’s concept of biodiversity compensation, ensuring developments provide net gains to biodiversity, has been embedded in the government’s 25-year Environment Plan and National Planning Policy Framework.