Peatlands and Nature Recovery Networks: The Environment’s Bill of the ball?

Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history. But the Government’s recent announcement, setting out plans to tackle biodiversity loss and climate change is a crucial step forward in restoring nature and safeguarding the environment for the future. Director of Ecology, Mike Barker looks at the implications for developers and landowners moving forward.

Mike E Barker, Director of Ecology
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The Environment Bill has been described as ‘landmark legislation’. But the impact of Brexit and the pandemic has led its passing into law delayed until Autumn 2021 at the earliest, with a two-year transition period meaning its formal implementation isn’t going to be likely until at least 2023.

Sitting within the Bill is Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG): a requirement for all development schemes to deliver a mandatory 10% biodiversity net gain to be maintained for at least 30 years. In simpler terms - development proposals must leave the land and biodiversity in a better state than how they found it.

Environment Secretary George Eustice set out plans earlier this month to tackle climate change and the biodiversity crisis in order to deliver the net zero commitment. This included a new historic, legally-binding species target for 2030, which will aim to half the decline of wildlife and nature. From the announcement, it’s important for both developers and landowners when considering development schemes to fully understand what the implications are, and what it means for them going forward.

Many Local Planning Authorities (LPA) however, who have the appropriate policy framework in place, are already requiring the projected BNG uplift from planning applications and developers, using the specified Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) biodiversity metric, in the expectation of the Bill being passed.

Decades of decline

Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history. The rate of species extinctions is accelerating, as a reported one million of animal and plant species are under threat, with thousands of these set to be extinct within decades.

The past ten years has seen funding for UK wildlife and the environment cut by 30% - the equivalent of £250 million. And it was reported last year that the UK had failed to reach 17 out of 20 UN biodiversity targets that were agreed at the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) in 2010.

The above stats paint a bleak picture. But the Government’s recent announcement is crucial in restoring nature and safeguarding the environment for the future, where COP15 and COP26 are taking place this year to drive solutions to these issues.  

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Playing a vital role in this restoration are peatlands, England’s largest carbon trapping store on land. This has been recognised in the announcement, with a new Nature for Climate Peatland Grant Scheme created to support the restoration of 35,000 hectares of degraded peatland in England, backed by over £50 million between 2021 and 2025, where there’s even more opportunity in the rest of the United Kingdom.

But what does this all mean to developers and landowners?

The opportunity to restore

A big part in the future of sustainable development relies on the BNG approach coming into power. From the Bill being passed, Nature Recovery Networks (NRN) need to be at the heart of any future planning system. What this means is that new nature places are carefully mapped out, joined up and placed where they will work best for nature and people.

Councils, wildlife and environmental organisations across the country will be involved in the creation of local nature recovery strategies. This will support local priorities for nature conservation, and identify which land is best placed for biodiversity recovery and enhancement.

For developers, ecological thinking needs to apply early in the planning process. No development may be started until approved by the LPA, and the authority must be confident it is accurate, and all biodiversity gains identified and designed in.

Where biodiversity cannot be improved on the development site, it needs to be created and ‘offset’ elsewhere. This will lead to opportunities for farmers and landowners to be paid to take on another party’s obligation, to create or improve habitat via a system of habitat credits.

Before any plans are submitted, developers must demonstrate how they are improving biodiversity; be it through new woodland, meadows, wetlands and local nature spaces. These could contribute to the creation of green corridors and filling gaps in the nature recovery network.

Bringing green developments together

Working with you, RPS connect developers to landowners, and vice versa, with our unique selling point being our wide range of solutions for BNG, natural capital and links to net zero.

We have the client base to facilitate the divide between both developers and landowners, and finding the local opportunities where the right land can create the right habitat. Additionally, and in line with the Bill, the Government is mapping out and making it clear where the priority sites are, as a common obstacle can be marrying up the right site to development.

"What we do for our clients is prepare them for what’s to come, by demonstrating how to integrate biodiversity net gain into development plans, and both legally and effectively manage a site to achieve maximum value".

Mike E Barker

Director of Ecology

Testimonial

The required 10% net gain is substantial and will prove more challenging for some developments over others. Specifically challenging may be the need for clients to demonstrate net gain outcomes, through habitat creation or enhancement.

By producing a positive legacy for future generations, working with us signifies the clear, greener goals developers and landowners are aiming to deliver.

The path to net zero

The accelerating impact of climate change in this country and around the world is of huge public concern. As is the damage to nature with species and habitat loss and the disappearance of cherished wildlife.

The passing of the Environment Bill will enable the process of a contribution-based approach. And delivering these habitats within the strategic gaps being outlined to the NRN creates a much stronger link to achieving net zero by 2050.

Regardless of the Bill however, the BNG requirement is likely to increase. Its advantages offer re-balancing of green space and development, being rooted into the landscape ecology scale which will be delivered at strategic sites, and the provision of mechanisms to get the most from carbon, natural capital and other benefits.

These will be helped by the three Environmental Land and Management Schemes (ELMS), which consist of a sustainable farming incentive, and local nature and landscape recovery.

It’s a new and ambitious framework, and not one that’s going to come without its trials and tribulations for landowners and developers. The Environment Bill is looking to maximise on opportunities created by leaving the European Union, and helps to deliver on the Government’s commitment to being the first generation to leave our environment in a better state.

Through our purpose, promise and behaviours, RPS is working with the broad spectrum of our client base to connect invested developers and landowners to deliver great solutions in the right places.

Free Biodiversity Net Gain CPD sessions for your business

BNG is a complex matter and, at first glance, can seem daunting. To help get you and your team ready ahead of its official mandate later this year, we can provide an informative CPD webinar covering everything you and your team need to know about BNG and its mechanisms for delivery. 

To find out more about our online webinar, get in touch using the form below.

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