Time for developments to deliver net gain for wildlife

© Martin de Retuerto

It's time to ensure that developments give back more than they take from nature

People are waking up to the damage we are doing to our planet.  Wildlife is in freefall with more than half of all species in steep decline, seas full of plastic, rivers drying out, soils lifeless, air polluted, and the threat of runaway climate change. People are becoming less and less connected to the natural environment. 

The UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world, and the pressure we are putting on our environment has a massive long term economic and social cost.

We at the Wildlife Trust are campaigning for a ‘Wilder Future’– there is no time to waste, we need to act now to restore nature and our connections to it, before we reach crisis point.

Wilder Hampshire & Isle of Wight discussion paper, Autumn 2018

A Wilder Hampshire and Isle of Wight

We're starting a debate on what a wilder Hampshire and Isle of Wight looks like, and how we can all help make it happen. Together we can tip the balance in favour of nature's recovery.

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The time to act is now

We believe that to put nature into recovery, action is needed across all policy areas – from farming, to water policy to environmental legislation and of course, planning.  

Planning is a vital area to get right because in the past housing development has been a significant cause of wildlife decline.

We want to see all housing developments give back more than they take from nature – by delivering meaningful biodiversity net gain, not only helping nature recover but also creating better places to live with far reaching social and economic benefits.  This is all the more pressing with an estimated 140,000 homes planned in Hampshire in the next twenty years!

Nature Recovery Network illustration

What is biodiversity net gain?

Biodiversity net gain is defined as “development that leaves biodiversity in a better state than before”. In short, it’s a measurable, overall increase in biodiversity within a development or beyond its boundaries. This mirrors the Government’s commitment in the 25 Year Environment Plan to improving the environment within a generation and leaving it in a better state than we found it”.

Existing policy, in the form of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), already recommends that local planning policies should identify and deliver opportunities for improving biodiversity. This is a strong recommendation, but ‘should do’ is guidance only – and in practice it’s hardly been delivered. 

While this is a welcome intention, currently there’s nothing compelling local authorities and developers to prevent new developments from harming wildlife. In practice we’ve seen few instances where it’s actually been implemented.

We must move from simply trying to protect what’s left to creating more space for nature and creating the connections that can help wildlife recover and survive.

We are calling for biodiversity net gain to be made compulsory for all developments when granting planning permission - a proposal that the Government is currently consulting on.

Urban bee © Paul Hobson

Urban bee © Paul Hobson

How biodiversity net gain could work

A mandatory requirement for biodiversity net gain would support delivery of existing planning policy, create a level playing field for developers and make it easier to implement a consistent national approach to net gain

While we support the government proposals to make biodiversity net gain mandatory, there are several principles that must be applied:

This cannot be a license to build anywhere - existing planning rules set out a ‘mitigation hierarchy’, stating that a development must first avoid harm to wildlife, then mitigate or compensate for its loss. This hierarchy should be followed before considering net gain opportunities for wildlife.

Decisions about net gain should be evidence-based - we’re calling for a geographical plan setting out where the best places to protect and increase biodiversity are, so that investment is shaped by ecological evidence rather than convenience. This would take the form of a Nature Recovery Network.

Wildlife cannot be traded for other environmental benefits - while flood management and green spaces for people to enjoy are important, wildlife needs space to recover and thrive.

A clear way of measuring biodiversity - there must be a standard metric for assessing biodiversity net gain must be developed and introduced across the country, so that wildlife’s survival doesn’t depend on a ‘postcode’ lottery based on local authority boundaries.

Robust monitoring and ongoing investment 'in perpetuity' will be essential to make sure that we can truly see long-term recovery of our wildlife and wild spaces.

It is only through ambitious and well-thought out measures such as this, that we will see nature start to recover for the next generation.

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