The variety of plant and animal life in the world, also known as biodiversity, has faced a rapid decline over the past 50 years. Human activity is largely to blame with pollution, climate change and over exploitation of natural environments being just some of the main causes. In the 2019 Global Assessment report, the United Nations (UN), in collaboration with IPBES, stated that 75% of land surface and 66% of our oceans have been drastically altered while 85% of the worlds wetlands have been lost. These environmental changes pose a significant threat to the well-being of animals and humans alike.
So, what are we doing about it?
Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) is an approach to development that enhances or creates natural habitats, leaving biodiversity in a better state than before. To deliver BNG you need to be able to measure biodiversity, and there are several ‘biodiversity metrics’ used globally to measure both losses and gains to biodiversity.
Globally, measures are coming into force, to protect nature and reverse the degradation of ecosystems. For example, the EU's Biodiversity strategy has been developed as part of the European Green Deal. In England, a universally applied system has been developed over the last decade and is soon to become a requirement of planning consent through the imminent Environment Bill with the Government seeking to introduce a mandatory BNG of 10% or greater for most development projects.
Prior to the Bill being adopted, strategy and policy has evolved rapidly and has encouraged many developers to already include BNG within their applications in order to meet corporate commitments, respond to stakeholder requests and use the opportunities the system provides to create both a positive legacy and to inform sensitive design decisions. By responding proactively to BNG, developers can harness its benefits, whilst managing the financial costs.
To measure biodiversity, Natural England, the government’s adviser for the natural environment, has led the creation of the ‘Biodiversity Metric 3.0’, a tool that will underpin the BNG system. The metric can be used to calculate the losses and gains associated with a particular project based on field survey data gathered at the site, and information regarding the project design. The idea is a transparent mechanism that provides a level playing field for all developers.
Although the Biodiversity Metric can be seen as an accounting tool to be used at the end of a development project to calculate the amount of BNG required, it is most valuable when integrated with the project from the get-go. It is also necessary for landowners wishing to create value on their landholdings to either aid their future developments (such as a biodiversity unit bank) or create biodiversity units for sale to developers who have a shortfall.
At Wood, we have been working to deliver the benefits of the BNG system to our clients on development projects of varying scales (including Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects) and identify value adding opportunities to companies with large non-operational landholdings.
For development projects, we seek to demonstrate the value of introducing BNG into the design, costing and stakeholder engagement at the start. Where appropriate, our team also provide the opportunity to combine consideration of BNG with Natural Capital assessments and green infrastructure design within our integrated environmental team. For example, Wood is working with National Grid to meet its corporate commitments to deliver environmental gain (a mixture of BNG and Natural Capital) across its non-operational estate (over 200 separate sites) by developing a strategy, identifying and prioritising the best, most cost effective-opportunities and devising the practical solutions needed to deliver.
BNG can be seen by some as an additional cost to development, but the benefits reach beyond that of biodiversity. These days, clients, investors, and stakeholders are increasingly measuring companies by their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) achievements, and adopting BNG can be a valuable enabler of better performance. With the right approach, we can leverage the positives and create opportunities that improve design, reduce consenting risk and manage financial cost through embedding the concept within a project and working across technical disciplines to maximise biodiversity and the benefits it brings. For Wood, and our clients, it’s another way we’re delivering on our goal to enable a more sustainable, resilient and liveable world.