How developers can help not harm the environment: Introducing Biodiversity Net Gain

In 2010 Governments from around the world met in Aichi, Japan and under the ‘Convention on Biological Diversity’ agreed on 20 biodiversity-related targets to turn around global biodiversity decline by 2020. Although there are many good news stories for individual species and specific areas, a mid-term analysis of progress towards the Aichi targets in 2014 suggests that despite increased policy and management responses to the biodiversity crisis, the impacts of these efforts are unlikely to be reflected in improved trends in the state of biodiversity by 2020.
This matters because biodiversity and ecosystems provide us with our life support systems. Without biodiversity, we would not have clean air to breathe, clean water or food on our plates. Biodiversity adds value to the economy and our wellbeing through providing benefits or ecosystem services for industry, agriculture, tourism and leisure as well as having intrinsic value.
We can do more to protect our biodiversity. There is a huge opportunity for developers to enhance biodiversity hand in hand with the provision of infrastructure and development. Protecting biodiversity, economic growth and development are too often seen as conflicting aims. They are not.
Biodiversity Net Gain (or net positive) is a quantitative, stepwise process that is applied to a development and aims for biodiversity to be left in a better state than beforehand. It results in greener, more biodiverse developments that not only offer homes for wildlife but also provide wider benefits for people, such as improved air quality and recreational amenities. This provides clear, quantifiable outcomes for biodiversity with a robust evidence base which allows clear reporting and benchmarking. It gives developers positive news stories to tell, contributes to local, national and international targets for biodiversity and helps to create great places for people to live and work.
So how does it work?
Biodiversity Net Gain follows the mitigation hierarchy, a four-step tool designed to result in wins for both biodiversity and development. The four steps are as follows:


  1. Avoidance

Measures taken to avoid creating impacts from the start. For example, changing the location of the development.

  1. Minimisation

 Measures taken to reduce the duration, intensity, extent and/or likelihood of impacts that cannot be avoided.

  1. On-site Restoration/ Rehabilitation

Measures taken to improve degraded ecosystems following exposure to impacts which cannot be completely avoided or minimised.

  1. Offset (off-site compensation)

Measures taken to compensate for any residual, adverse impacts after full implementation of the previous three steps of the Mitigation Hierarchy.
Following the first three steps alone – avoidance, minimisation and onsite rehabilitation/restoration -could be enough to not only reduce the impacts on biodiversity but could also result in a net gain for biodiversity. However, after these three steps have been carefully considered, a “biodiversity offset” may still be required. Biodiversity offsets are a form of offsite compensation whereby a habitat which has been disturbed is recreated elsewhere. They are designed to compensate for significant adverse effects to biodiversity and aim to achieve at least no net loss but preferably a net gain to biodiversity. Using a biodiversity offset is a last resort for any developer and is only considered after all steps of the Mitigation Hierarchy have been applied to a development.  The Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme (BBOP) have a list of international best practice principles to follow if you’re considering this type of approach on your developments.
Two of the UK’s largest property developers, Barratt Homes and Berkeley Group, have made commitments to address their biodiversity impacts. Berkeley Group state that they will “develop and apply an approach to ensure that all new developments create a net biodiversity gain”. Barratt Homes has committed to create “a net positive ecological impact by 2020”. It is likely that other developers will follow suit. Could building for biodiversity become the “next big thing” in the property sector? We think so.

This article is written by Laura Homfray and Tom Butterworth at WSP.
Check out WSP‘s Biodiversity Net Gain white paper.

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