Despite nature policies and laws that give protection to priority species, wildlife statistics show that 40% of the UK’s most important habitats and 30% of its rarest species are in decline. Consequentially, the ecological impact of new developments continues to be one of the main arguments against building new infrastructure.

However, according to Wildlife and Countryside Link, a network of UK organizations dedicated to protecting and enhancing wildlife, landscape and the marine environments, the UK’s goal of halting biodiversity loss by 2020 is still attainable, but will require increased political commitment at national levels.

A WSP report, titled Biodiversity net gain - A new role for infrastructure and development in improving Britain’s wildlife, calls on both the public and private sectors to step up their commitments to protecting biodiversity. The report suggests that legislating biodiversity as part of the National Planning Policy Framework could bring the UK closer to its goals by establishing a developmental commitment to enhancing, rather than endangering nature. The core focus of the report centers on the concept of biodiversity net gain, embracing the idea that damage caused by human activity can be balanced through equivalent gains.

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Advancing the Metrics

“Developments, including infrastructure projects, can absolutely enhance, rather than endanger, biodiversity,” says Mark Webb, WSP Technical Director for Ecology. “The key challenge in the UK is to raise awareness, improve understanding of the approach across the public and private sector and to ensure a level playing field for regulation application locally.”

Supporting Webb’s comments, a WSP survey of 200 environmental professionals from various backgrounds indicates that, despite high levels of interest in the idea, there remains a significant lack of understanding of the principles of the approach. According to the report, biodiversity net gain can enhance the concept of biodiversity offsetting, a system already used by UK planners and developers to compensate for biodiversity impacts. While biodiversity offsetting already exists as a metric of the UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the WSP report suggests that biodiversity net gain should be adopted as an obligatory component of the National Planning Policy Framework.

The WSP report contains six practical recommendations for positioning biodiversity net gain at the heart of UK development, which begins with clear and consistent guidance at a local level to develop a level playing field for developers. If biodiversity net gain becomes the legislated norm for all private sector developments, collaboration between all stakeholders can advance the concept through an evidence base of the long term performance of those developments.

Download a copy of ‘Biodiversity net gain: A new role for infrastructure and development in improving Britain’s wildlife
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