UK govt body readies metric ahead of biodiversity net gain scheme launch

Published 11:49 on March 29, 2023  /  Last updated at 11:49 on March 29, 2023  / Roy Manuell /  Biodiversity

The body responsible for nature preservation in England and Wales posted a significant update to its biodiversity metric, which it expects will be the final version used when biodiversity net gain becomes mandatory in November, it said in a consultation response.

The body responsible for nature preservation in England and Wales has posted a significant update to its biodiversity metric, which it expects will be the final version used when biodiversity net gain becomes mandatory in November, it said in a consultation response.

The aim of the biodiversity metric is to provide stakeholders, including project developers, with a tool by which to quantify losses or gains in biodiversity, and will affect development or changes in land management.

“This updates [the previous version] that was published in April 2022 and as per Defra’s recently published consultation response, Defra anticipate that [the new metric] will be the version of the metric that will become statutory,” Natural England said in a release published on Tuesday. Defra is the UK’s department for environment.

“To give you a flavour of the changes, the guidance has been streamlined and made more user friendly, work has been undertaken to ensure habitat names align as close as possible with relevant habitat classifications including UKHab and amendments to the calculation tool including creating a running total (area, length, and units) within the top of each page of the metric tool and changes to the way the spatial risk multiplier is applied.”

The government had published a response in February to a consultation launch a year prior on biodiversity net gain (BNG), summarising current policy positions and reactions to the process from stakeholders.

Mandatory BNG requirements concerning land development are to set to come into force in Nov. 2023 across England and Wales as part of agreed amendments to existing local and environmental legislation.

Any new developments across England and Wales will now need to prove a 10% net gain in biodiversity as a condition of planning permission.

SIGNIFICANCE OF METRIC

The new so-called biodiversity 4.0 metric, updates the previous version (3.1), which was published last April.

It is of significance for environmental integrity with stakeholders having warned that previous iterations of the metric had the potential to be “the single most dangerous thing to be done by a statutory agency”, as reported by environmental website Ends Report.

The new metric, assuming it becomes the one used in the new regulation, is not expected to be changed before 2026, the government stated.

The document summarising the changes made in the new 4.0 version, Natural England cited the update as “substantial” but that “the majority of changes are focused on providing an enhanced user experience and are unlikely to have significant impact on the range of outputs generated”.

A lot of the work done was to ensure habitat names align as closely as possible with “relevant habitat classifications” and to overall streamline the metric.

Mike Burke, programme director – sustainable development at Natural England, said in the update that changes have also been made to how the “spatial risk multiplier” is applied, which determines how to incentivise habitat delivery on or close to the development site.

The spatial risk multiplier has been one of the sticking points in the past for environmentalists after a pilot scheme revealed it can inadvertently incentivise the creation of lower distinctiveness habitats. 

The multiplier will now apply to “any overall off-site net gains in area habitat, hedgerow, or watercourse units” whereas before it only applied to off-site creation and enhancement.

This made it “difficult to achieve off-site gains in many scenarios”, the note stated.

Other changes to the new metric concerned specific compensation measures for the loss of watercourse habitats which have been classified as having a “very high distinctiveness”, as well as a review of the condition assessment sheets associated with the metric that concerns who can assign a habitat condition to any unit of land.

Full details can be found on the Natural England website.

The new biodiversity regulations will fit in alongside a broader UK push towards green growth, a significant topic raised during the recent review of the country’s net zero strategy, with the government is expected to publish a revised strategy Thursday.

By Roy Manuell – roy@carbon-pulse.com

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