Defra launched a 10 week consultation in December 2018 on whether new housing and commercial developers should be required to provide a biodiversity net gain. As part of these proposals developers would have to pay a levy for habitat creation or improvements elsewhere if there are no opportunities on site. Smaller and brownfield sites may be exempt. This follows on from the new adopted NPPF launched in July 2018 which addressed the need to protect wildlife and halt the level of biodiversity losses from insensitive development.
BS42020: 2013 Biodiversity – Code of Practice for Planning Development (hereafter referred to as BS 42020) provides a framework for assessing ecological opportunities and constraints and biodiversity gains and losses and enables developers to navigate development planning.
BS 42020 is a reference guide or tool – rather like a Haynes Car Manual but for ecologists and their approach to biodiversity management and the development planning process. It was published in August 2013 and accords with CIEEM’s ‘Guidelines for Ecological Impact Assessment’. The standard has eight sections on biodiversity and the development planning process and includes a series of annexes which are a useful reference guide for both practitioners and decision makers alike. It is designed to be dipped into and certain sections apply to different, site specific situations. The planning process is broken into five key stages (based on the RIBA Plan of Work) from Pre-application through to Post-construction monitoring by an Ecological Clerk of Works and provides a framework for good practice throughout the whole development planning process.
The Standard also provides a guide to ethics, conduct and competence of the professional ecologist and highlights the need for a consistent and proportionate approach - to ensure the level of survey information is appropriate to the level of environmental risk likely with any proposed new development.
The best outcome for biodiversity is achieved if ecology is considered from the outset of a proposal. An ‘Ecological Constraints and Opportunities Plan’ (ECOP) can inform the design process and vastly improve the outcome for biodiversity gains. The Standard outlines a mitigation hierarchy (clause 5.2), which should be incorporated into initial site analysis. This methodology avoids (or minimises at the very least) ecological impacts and provides opportunities for biodiversity gains to be incorporated into site planning. To this end clause 6.5 in the Standard requires ecologists to monitor and provide a clear statement of biodiversity net loss and gain for stakeholders and decision makers.
If an ecological report is compliant with BS 42020, decision makers can be assured that a proportionate mitigation strategy has been provided and can then set appropriate planning conditions and/or obligations as necessary. This can save time in the planning process.
Annex D provides a set of model ‘off the peg’ conditions that an applicant or local authority can use to identify mitigation and enhancement actions (including offsetting and financial provision) that will produce biodiversity gains. The annex also provides guidance to decision makers on protected species licensing (see clause 8.5.3) and on where a condition may be applied (for example a method statement) to avoid the need for such a requirement.
One of the strengths of BS42020 is its adaptability, and its promotion of a consistent integrated approach. There is an encouragement of innovation particularly in the approach to new study techniques or the collection of data. It outlines a collaborative approach to the planning development process with an emphasis on a positive outcome for biodiversity rather than how that outcome is achieved.
To have your say on Defra's Biodiversity Net Gain consultation, visit https://consult.defra.gov.uk/land-use/net-gain/consultation/
- James Simpson (InPractice, Valuing Ecosystem Services Issue 92 June 2016) BS 42020: 2013 – Cracking the Code.
- Mike Oxford CIEEM Course 29.11.2018 BS 42020: 2013 Biodiversity – Code of Practice for Planning and Development
- British Standards Institution (2013), BS 42020: 2013 Biodiversity – Code of Practice for Planning and Development. British Standards Institution, London.
Defra has announced a new Agricultural Bill. The legislation was introduced to parliament on the 12th September and outlined the new Environmental Land Management system to replace the current EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidy system for farmers and land managers as we approach Brexit. The aim is to produce a ‘green’ Brexit. The Environment Secretary Michael Gove explained, “This bill will allow us to reward farmers who protect our environment, leaving the countryside in a cleaner, greener healthier state for future generations.”
The current subsidy system pays farmers on the total amount of land farmed which means the largest landowners receive the greatest rewards (the top 10% of landowners currently receive 50% of funding and the bottom 20% receive only 2%) rather than rewarding efforts to increase public benefit which may take place on smaller holdings in areas requiring the most environmental action or improvement.
What are the benefits of the new policy? Farmers and land managers will be paid for ‘public goods’ such as improved air and water quality, better soil health, higher animal welfare standards, public access to the countryside and measures to reduce flood risk. Direct payments will be phased out gradually in the transition period from 2020-2027. Farmers will have additional support during this period to prepare and plan. To ease this transition and encourage diversification, payments during this period will be delinked from the requirement to farm the land for acceptance into the scheme. This revised approach is hoped to encourage farmers to diversify - or retire from farming and enable new people to enter this sector.
Instead payments will reward the greatest environmental benefit. This move will be under-pinned by measures to increase productivity and future research and development to increase profits and lower the environmental footprint of farming. All farmers will see a reduction in payments with those who historically received the highest payments seeing the biggest reduction. This reduction in payments will hopefully provide funds to pay for public goods and a ‘greener’ countryside.
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