New nature ‘net gain’ consultation: our initial thoughts

We’ll be responding to Defra’s new consultation on biodiversity net gain. Here are a few of our initial thoughts.

The UK Government has published a consultation on a mandatory system for ‘biodiversity net gain’. This means a system where developers have to fund net increases in nature when they cause harm.

Development can put significant pressure on nature. With significant house building plans over coming years, we’re concerned about what effect this will have on the environment and on the Government’s ability to deliver its ambitious plans for nature’s recovery. Biodiversity net gain offers one way to address the impacts that development can have on nature.

©National Trust Images/John Miller

If planned and implemented carefully then a ‘net gain’ approach to development could deliver positive outcomes for nature. Voluntary net gain has not delivered the desired outcomes, so moving to a mandatory approach, which the Government is proposing, is right.

By creating new sources of finance from developer contributions, biodiversity net gain could provide money for the delivery of the Government’s planned Nature Recovery Network. Developer contributions could be used to deliver biodiversity improvements on-site or nearby. This would dramatically improve the quality of housing developments and give people the chance to have a stake in their local environments.

Or, in some cases they could be pooled to help deliver landscape or catchment-scale restoration and creation of habitat. This also ties in to Government’s proposed approach to the Nature Recovery Network. Local Authorities should play a key part in this process, integrating their role in delivering the Nature Recovery Network with deciding where and how to spend net gain contributions.

The Government should also consider how biodiversity net gain can be used to deliver increased public access to nature and green spaces. Ensuring that net gains in biodiversity are sustained will require sufficient long-term monitoring and funding for this; this needs to include funding for skilled local ecologists.

©National Trust Images/John Millar

But, biodiversity net gain could also bring risks too. It should not be a green light to damage high quality habitat and the mitigation hierarchy (of avoiding, mitigating and then compensating any harmful development) and other planning protections should still fully apply. Nor should any new net gain approach be a licence to destroy irreplaceable habitats such as ancient woodland. There will need to be significant safeguards attached to any net gain scheme.

The consultation refers to a need to create a duty for net gain in legislation. It would make sense for this to be the Environment Bill. But, as we’ve set out elsewhere, a strong Environment Bill needs many other elements that we’re very concerned about right now.

We’ll be looking in detail at the consultation over the coming weeks and will put our response on this blog.

Matt Williams, Public Policy Officer, National Trust. 

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