At a time when pressure on existing farm incomes feels inevitable, it is important to understand the emerging opportunities for turning natural capital and the associated environmental, biodiversity and social benefits, known as ecosystem services. We are currently advising developers, farmers and landowners on Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG), so what is it and how could it affect you in the future?
The draft Environment Bill sets out proposals for developers to achieve a 10% improvement to biodiversity value, and they will be required to submit a biodiversity plan along with their development plans. A net gain on the same site as the development is preferred, but achieving 110% of biodiversity value and a development scheme will in some circumstances be impossible and a separate site will be required. BNG is already a requirement of the National Planning Policy Framework and National Planning Practice Guidance, and Local Planning Authorities will be required to produce plans detailing priorities in the borough for biodiversity projects. Some plans are being progressed already
Whilst many of the developments required to provide BNG will be for residential housing and the associated roads, schools, shops and healthcare services that go with them, it is also anticipated that some of the major infrastructure projects will also be expected to submit plans. Landowners close to these projects such as the new Lower Thames Crossing here in Kent and neighbouring Essex should also consider their potential role in this.
Building work on any development will not be able to begin until the local planning authority is happy that off-site biodiversity gain or credits are actually allocated or pre-purchased. The opportunity for landowners is to provide land for biodiversity projects, generating income. Potential sites will need to meet criteria and be capable of meeting new targets for biodiversity enhancement.
Farms and estates should start now to consider their own natural capital and the opportunities. Considerations include:
Whilst the relevant legislation has not yet passed through Government, it is the case that a number of local authorities are already embracing the principles of BNG. At BTF we have experience of advising landowners on the metrics assessment to establish BNG requirements, and facilitated the sale of a woodland in East Kent which will be used to offset losses on a development site in a Kentish coastal town. We expect opportunities such as this either by way of sale or by way of conservation covenants with the landowner. There is no fixed approach to commercial value and circumstances vary in each case.
Beyond BNG there should be opportunities with Ecosystem Services and these may be included in the ELM scheme, if and when it is prescribed. Natural Flood Management is already being investigated on a client’s farm in the Upper Beult catchment. Various trials are in progress around the country which will hopefully produce practical and viable proposals.
"There are potential opportunities for landowners and farmers and a first step towards progressing them would be to understand the natural capital of your land holdings and the potential opportunities it could create as a new revenue scheme that sits hand in hand with your other farm operations, followed by engaging with local authorities, developers and consultants. At BTF we are working closely on these new innovations with our developer clients and contacts, and we are also able to discuss technicalities with the Kent Wildlife Trust Consultancy Service, if necessary."