Date updated: Tuesday 6th February 2024
As part of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, the Government introduced biodiversity net gain requirements in order to protect wildlife and enhance the environment. We will explore these requirements in more detail, as well as one of the ways charities could assist in meeting these requirements.
Biodiversity net gain requirements for developers
Biodiversity net gain (BNG) is a system which encourages developers to have a positive impact on biodiversity after they have completed their works.
Under this system, biodiversity is measured in standardised biodiversity units. Therefore, once it can be calculated how many units a habitat contains before development, it can be calculated how many units are needed to replace the units of habitat lost. BNG currently requires developers to achieve a BNG of 10%, and this net gain must be maintained for a minimum of 30 years. The result is that the overall natural environment is improved with each development, leaving it in a better state than it was prior.
Additionally, these requirements can be met on-site or off-site, meaning developers can commit to improving biodiversity in an area where the natural environment has suffered (i.e. protected areas or nature sites) whilst using the entirety of the specified land for the development.
It has been announced that from 12 February 2024 (under Schedule 7A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as inserted by Schedule 14 of the Environment Act 2021), the BNG requirement of at least 10% will be mandatory for new planning applications for major development under the TCPA 1990. It will also become mandatory for small sites from 2 April 2024.
How charities can ensure developers achieve their biodiversity net gain requirements
One of the ways in which developers can meet the BNG requirement is by entering into conservation covenants. Conservation covenants are private voluntary agreements between a landowner (freeholder or the holder of a leasehold estate of more than seven years) and a responsible body (bodies designated under the Environment Act 2021) which establish what the landowner or responsible body must or must not do in order to protect, restore or enhance the natural or heritage features of the specified land. Under the Environment Act 2021, charities can apply to become a responsible body.
In the context of achieving BNG requirements, such conservation covenants will ensure that the landowner is committed to improving the habitat by either:
requiring the landowner to do, or not do, something on specified land;
requiring the landowner to allow the responsible body to do something on such land; or
requiring the responsible body to do something on such land.
What does becoming a responsible body entail and how can charities apply?
Generally, becoming a responsible body will include monitoring the landowner to ensure that they are carrying out their obligations under the covenant and/or enforcing the covenant. Charities hoping to become responsible bodies should therefore consider whether they have the sufficient resources, expertise and the right governance structure to carry out such functions.
Entering into conservation covenants will be an effective tool for developers who need to meet BNG requirements on relevant sites. It may also give charities a good incentive to become responsible bodies, knowing that there will be a higher demand for conservation services.
Charities that wish to become responsible bodies must submit an application with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) at firstname.lastname@example.org., and will be assessed using the following criteria:
Operational capacity and capability;
For charities, at least some of its main purposes or functions must relate to conservation in order to be deemed suitable.
Detailed guidance as to how charities can fulfil each criteria can be found on Defra‘s website.