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Keeping the Land Alive:

Biodiversity Net Gain

Biodiversity net gain (BNG) is a concept that has gained significance in recent years, driven by the urgent need to protect and enhance our natural ecosystems during and after construction projects. Now in England it’s backed by legal requirements.

But what actually is Biodiversity Net Gain?

The core principle of BNG is simple: any new development must leave the biodiversity of a site in a better state than it was previously. Until the government passed the Environment Act in 2021, this was not a legal requirement. However, from February 2024 the act mandates that in order to obtain planning permission developers must put in place plans to increase the biodiversity value of their site by at least 10%. There are exceptions for those habitats deemed to be irreplaceable, such as those comprising of ancient trees, limestone pavement and coastal sand dunes. These are not subject to the minimum 10% biodiversity increase. Instead developers must establish an alternative to mitigate the impact on these important sites as set out under existing legislation. Planning permission for development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats will only be granted in exceptional circumstances.

Currently, the legislation only covers England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have yet to formalize BNG, but all are actively exploring biodiversity improvements through their respective National Planning Frameworks. BNG’s reach extends beyond residential housing, encompassing a broad spectrum of projects, including industrial and commercial. It applies to both major developments—those with ten or more dwellings or over half a hectare in size—and, as of April 2024, smaller developments too.

By making BNG mandatory the United Kingdom is taking crucial steps toward preserving our ecosystems for future generations, while also encouraging developers to consider the need to enhance the natural world at an early stage.

How does it work?

There are 3 ways a developer can achieve 10% BNG:

#1 Enhance and restore biodiversity on-site

The best way to achieve BNG is preserving as much of the existing biodiversity on a site as possible, and taking opportunities to enrich it with green landscaping and planned habitats.

#2 Enhance and restore biodiversity off-site

If developers cannot achieve all of their BNG on-site, they can deliver through a mixture of on-site and off-site. Developers can either make off-site biodiversity gains on their own land outside the development site, or buy off-site biodiversity units on the market.

#3 Biodiversity credits

If developers cannot achieve on-site or off-site BNG, they must buy statutory biodiversity credits from the government. This should be a last resort. The government will use the revenue to invest in habitat creation in England.

You can combine all 3 steps, but must follow the steps in order. This order of steps is called the biodiversity gain hierarchy.

The Biodiversity Gain Site Register serves as the central hub for tracking off-site gains. This prevents double counting and ensures transparency. Registering a site on the BNG Register costs £639, with subsequent allocations priced at £45.

On-site BNG provision by developers doesn’t require registration but must still be legally secured for at least 30 years after the completion of the development. The government aims to streamline information by extracting on-site data from planning permissions and integrating it into the BNG Register for easy accessibility. The enforcement of both off-site and on-site BNG is carried out by Local Planning Authorities.

What are the metrics for Biodiversity Net Gain?

A biodiversity metric is used by ecologists to measure changes in our in biodiversity by looking at specific properties of habitats. Biodiversity metrics assign a ‘unit value’ to each habitat on a site based on its relative biodiversity value, which allows comparison between the existing site value and what will be achieved through development or management. Protected species are not taken into consideration by biodiversity metrics.

The value of a habitat will be measured considering the following factors:

  • Size
  • Distinctiveness
  • The diversity or rarity of the habitat and species found
  • The strategic significance of a site and its ecological importance locally
  • The condition and quality of the habitat
  • The connectivity of the site and how the habitat is connected to other areas
  • The local importance of the habitat site

How can I best practically deliver Biodiversity Net Gain?

Protect, don’t restore – A mantra common in conservation is “it is less costly to conserve nature than it is to restore it”. In relation to BNG this means your first steps should be avoidance – what can you do to reduce your ecological footprint during site works? A good baseline survey from an ecological consultancy will identify key biodiversity in the area, helping you to avoid bad publicity and costly alterations if your project is found to be disrupting an important local habitat.

Visual Marketing – As well as helping the environment, BNG can add value to a development in a way that looks great in plans and renderings, and because it’s supported by environmental science and monitoring people can have confidence that the designs will translate into reality over the long term.

Sustainable Habitats – If creating a new habitat, make one that will stand the test of time through ensuring its suitability for the surrounding ecosystem. Beyond just fulfilling obligations during construction, a lasting habitat will demonstrate your company’s environmental competency to future clients and investors, and connect your brand with green spaces for many years to come.

Don’t forget your local wood recycler can make sustainable planters, bird boxes, bat boxes, bug hotels and much more for your biodiversity needs!

Network Spotlight: Bristol Wood Recycling Project

Celebrating Twenty Years of Bristol Wood Recycling Project

Bristol Wood Recycling Project (BWRP) was the first enterprise to be set up on the original model created by Brighton and Hove Wood Recycling Project, and led the way in building the Community Wood Recycling network. From being a pioneer of the circular and social economies in the city, BWRP has become a beacon of sustainability, fulfilling its community and environmental objectives and employing twelve members of staff whilst hosting volunteers and rescuing and re-using wood every day. Since the project’s founding the team have recycled over 6,000 tonnes of wood and provided training opportunities to more than 700 volunteers.

The team have taken the initial model and made it their own, adopting a co-operative structure that empowers their workers, and securing funding for a permanent home after losing their site to redevelopment. We congratulate everyone involved and wish them every success in the future.

On June 21st they held a party to celebrate their 20 year anniversary, including a visit by co-leader of the Green Party, Carla Denyer, who said:

“It’s a pleasure to be able to join in the celebrations of Bristol Wood Recycling Project’s 20th birthday. Bristol’s identity as a green city – made up of vibrant businesses and social, environmental and cultural projects – is exemplified by BWRP.

Doing good for people and planet, creating meaningful, low-carbon employment, and working cooperatively for a vibrant and regenerative economy; BWRP is exemplary of what businesses can and should be striving towards. It is a business not just of today, but of the future.

BWRP has been operating and thriving under this model for 20 years. It demonstrates that the Green economy here in Bristol and beyond is here to stay, and sets a model that so many others can and will follow.”

Ben Moss, co-founder added:

“We can’t quite believe we’ve made it to this significant milestone! What started off as a good idea has flourished in to cultural landmark in our city, the kind of ‘green enterprise’ that people associate Bristol with.

From starting off as outliers, we now hold a middle ground of practices that define a positive way of doing things – reusing and reclaiming, working as a co-operative, having strong social and environmental objectives, equality and parity in the workplace (we all get paid the same wage) – we are putting into practice what others know to be the way the future should look.

And although we have been running for 20 years, we feel young – and our ideas for how we can continue feel as fresh and as vibrant as they ever did. We’re looking forward to what the next twenty years might hold, as our way of doing things becomes ever more important in these times of great change.”

Richard Mehmed, founder of Community Wood Recycling, said:

“I remember the early days of the Bristol Wood Recycling Project, helping to set up the first few wood racks in the pouring rain. Thank goodness for the positive attitude of Ben and his volunteers! They turned an initially daunting plan into an exciting project which has had a national impact. BWRP has truly helped to blaze a trail for sustainability, pioneering a greener way of doing things during an era when environmental concerns were largely ignored”.

Green Woodwork in Bristol: Tree To Treen

Geoff’s transformation from a volunteer at BWRP to the owner of Tree to Treen is a powerful example of the project’s impact. His time with them from 2018 to 2020 was filled with learning and growth, culminating in his own green woodworking business. Geoff’s workshop, built with wood from BWRP, now offers a range of courses for 2024, including spoon carving, woodturning, and even leather tanning. Here’s what he had to say about his time with BWRP and beyond:

How long did you volunteer with Bristol Wood Recycling?

“2 years between 2018 and 2020 including the move to the new location on William Street.”

What did you enjoy most about your time there?

“Every time I went in, I felt like I learned something from either staff or other volunteers; from the ideal wood for a job, to the best way to remove a troublesome nail. I loved visiting the building sites and saving good wood from becoming waste!”

What are you up to now?

“I am a green woodworker with my own workshop and teaching space at Grow Wilder in Frenchay, Bristol. My company name is Tree to Treen. Treen is the word for small household items made of wood. A fair amount of my workshop is built from wood from the Bristol Wood Recycling Project, and I’m still using all the screws I salvaged when moving from the old site!”

Are there any events or products you want people to know about?

“2024 courses are now live both taught by me and a variety of talented guest tutors. From spoon carving, to woodturning, to basketry, there are lots to choose from. We even have a leather tanning course this year in the first step away from wood-based courses.”

Book a place or find out more about the courses on offer at www.treetotreen.com/workshops.

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Want to get involved?

There are all kinds of ways to support our work while getting a great deal. If you work at a business which creates a lot of wood waste, you can use our wood waste collection service. If you’re interested in timber, wooden products, or volunteering, get in touch with your local enterprise to find out more.