After several delays, the new Biodiversity Net Gain legislation launches in England today (12th February 2024) for major developments. This groundbreaking strategy, part of the UK Environment Act, aims to ensure that habitats for wildlife are not only preserved but enhanced during and after the development process. The initiative recognises nature as a crucial stakeholder, offering developers a unique opportunity to weave biodiversity into the fabric of urban planning.

In order to obtain planning approval, developers are required to present a comprehensive Biodiversity Gain Plan (BGP). This plan entails an evaluation of the habitat value of the designated development area, along with a detailed strategy outlining how the developers intend to achieve a tangible increase in biodiversity, ensuring a minimum net gain of 10% over a timeframe of at least 30 years.

This can either be delivered fully or in part via both on-site and off-site habitats. The developer can also purchase statutory biodiversity credits, if there is no other option available. Ecologists will be tasked with assessing the site's habitats before the commencement of any development. A plan for monitoring habitat improvement over the 30 year timeframe will also be created, to ensure that the 10% net gain target is not only met but sustained.

Because BNG focuses on habitats as a measure of biodiversity, it will work alongside the existing legislation for protected species such as bats, dormice and Great Crested Newts. Mitigation and enhancement for these species will not contribute towards the BNG plan.

BNG is not just about regulations; it is a paradigm shift that could revolutionise the way we view landownership. By incorporating biodiversity enhancement as a core principle, BNG transforms land into an asset that goes beyond its traditional economic value. Landowners now have the opportunity to become stewards of biodiversity, with BNG providing a long-term, sustainable financing mechanism to support the creation and enhancement of habitats. This new perspective on land as a valuable resource for both development and conservation can lead to a more balanced and resilient approach to land management.

BNG will become mandatory for minor sites from 12th April 2024, and should be in place for national infrastructure projects for Winter 2025.

For more resources, check out Natural England's blog on where to start, and their Tools & Guides for measuring BNG.