Ambition must be raised for nature-positive development, say The Wildlife Trusts


Monday 12 February marked a new era for nature-positive development, with Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) becoming mandatory for major developments in England.

BNG will also be applied to minor developments in England from April.

The new guidance means that wildlife habitat must be left in a better state than it was before a development took place. 

For decades, building development has been a significant cause of nature loss. But these new legal requirements in England offer the potential for developers to take a more positive approach. Put simply, this new duty will require developers to deliver measurably more for nature than is lost through development.

The Wildlife Trusts have been influencing the evolution of BNG for more a decade and want to see high standards set for its delivery. One in six species are at risk of extinction and the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. If done well, BNG could make a positive contribution towards nature's recovery and help address the climate emergency in the process.

Trumpington Meadows is blend of housing estate, country park and nature reserve on the edge of Cambridge (Martin Baker / The Wildife Trusts).

However, The Wildlife Trusts are concerned that BNG is not currently on track to play its part in addressing the severity of the continuing nature crisis – and that current ambition is set too low. In a recently published briefing, The Wildlife Trusts have outlined a series of measures to raise that ambition

The nature charities have asked that developers and local authorities go beyond the minimum requirements and aim for at least a 20% gain for nature, while also encouraging the UK Government to change policy and guidance so that the sale of excess biodiversity units is prevented.

They also recommend there there is no further broadening of permitted development rules, while suggesting that Local Planning Authorities should be resourced with the right level of skills and capacity across departments to oversee the BNG process to ensure it is properly implemented, monitored and enforced.

Rachel Hackett, planning and development manager at The Wildlife Trusts, said: "The Wildlife Trusts are determined to set the gold standard for BNG and to demonstrate what it should and can achieve both for nature and climate. We are wrestling with two inextricably linked crises – helping nature to recover is fundamental to addressing climate change. So it's extremely disappointing to see that some of the rules and guidelines for BNG fall short of their intended ambition and we will continue to call for regulations and guidance to be more effective. 

"Given the uncertainties surrounding habitat creation, a gain of 10% will at best hold the tide against nature lost to development and provide a contingency to ensure no overall loss of biodiversity. But if we want to secure real recovery for nature, we need to see at least 20% gain – and for Government to reverse the decision to enable developers to sell on excess units."