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Biodiversity Net Gain – Buckinghamshire

Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) is now a consideration for all new developments since it was introduced as a core policy in the Environment Act 2021. Now that biodiversity net gain bng is a mandatory requirement, development projects must leave the natural environment in a measurably better state than they found it, according to a biodiversity metric.

A development scheme must maintain the same standard of biodiversity post-development as it had pre-development, and the site must achieve a minimum 10% uplift in biodiversity value. To satisfy biodiversity net gain requirements, Buckinghamshire Council would like a BNG plan submitted alongside a planning application for new development. 

An aerial view of Buckinghamshire.

Buckinghamshire and nature recovery

The Buckinghamshire & Milton Keynes Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), produced by the Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Natural Environment Partnership with contributions from Buckinghamshire Council, the Environment Agency, and Natural England, sets out policy development for the management of the natural environment to 2030. It includes targets for restoring and creating new habitats, noting that 41% of species in the UK have declined in recent decades. The BAP aims to oversee more well-planned and joined-up new habitats at landscape scale to reduce biodiversity losses. Land management is being masterminded with various partners to make areas adaptable to climate change, enhance existing biodiversity value, ensure that nature recovery is a key part of local plans, and that development projects deliver bng requirements.

Developing policy measures include recreating permanent woodland and grassland and providing re-connected habitats for many protected species, alongside protecting species-rich grassland, semi-natural woodland, scrub and edge habitats. Other aims for land managers include increasing investment in local wildlife sites, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), habitat banks and new habitat types.

Prevent biodiversity loss

Lowland mixed deciduous woodland is the most extensive priority habitat here, with other important biodiverse areas including lowland dry acid grassland and lowland wood pasture. The Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty hosts many priority habitat types in south Buckinghamshire. Local Nature Recovery Strategies aim to set biodiversity targets and outcomes and are being finalised across the area. Other sites with biodiversity value include Whittlewood Forest, Whaddon Chase, Ouse Valley, Yardley Chase, Greensand Ridge, and Upper Ray Valley. One of the most valuable sites is Burnham Beeches in the south of the county, which comprises ancient wood pasture; it is an SSSI, National Nature Reserve, and Special Area of Conservation. Milton Keynes contains designated sites and biodiversity opportunity areas such as Greensand Ridge, Howe Park Wood, Oxley Mead and the Blue Lagoon Local Nature Reserve.

One of the county’s best examples of development designed to create wildlife habitats is The Kingsbrook development near Aylesbury, a collaboration between Barratt Homes, the local council, the RSPB, and other partners.

Wildlife habitats for rare species such as this hazel dormouse are found in Buckinghamshire.

Rare species within the Buckinghamshire Council area

These include the Peregrine falcon, Chiltern Gentian, found on lowland chalk grassland, water vole, skylark, hazel dormice, chalkland blue butterfly, black poplar, and the black darter dragonfly.

BNG and national policy

Biodiversity net gain was introduced in the Environment Act to halt the severe decline in nature and protected species in the UK since the 1970s. Once the Environment Bill became the Environment Act in 2021, there was a two-year transition period giving local authorities and developers time to adjust to the new legislation: mandatory biodiversity net gain was introduced in November 2023 by Natural England for major development sites and small sites of up to nine units. From April 2024 BNG applied to smaller sites and commercial developments under 1,000 sq. m.

BNG, now part of the National Planning Policy Framework, means that the biodiversity on a development site must be registered pre-development and post-development. Once a BNG plan clarifies the ecological features of a site, ways of mitigating biodiversity losses can be established.  

Local planning authorities now require planning applicants to provide evidence of how biodiversity will be increased by a minimum 10% according to the latest version of the Defra metric, and details of how the proposals will be maintained for at least 30 years.

If adding net gain on-site proves impossible, biodiversity units can be delivered off-site, preferably on land nearby that has been earmarked for improvement by local authorities. In the case of biodiversity offsets, an agreement must be legally secured to set out how the site will be managed for 30 years. The last resort option is purchasing national biodiversity credits.

The Chiltern Hills Ridgeway Path.

The BNG assessment

An ecological consultant will inspect the proposed development site to record all the habitat features in the red-line site boundary. Each one will be given a biodiversity net gain value, and the information will be logged into the Defra metric to calculate the site’s current ecological value. The metric’s Strategic Significance Multiplier will identify the best areas of the site for habitat improvements that will result in measurable biodiversity net gain.

The next stage is for the consultant to study the developer’s post-development plans to assess the site’s biodiversity units upon completion. This figure will be logged into the metric and the difference between the two readings must be eliminated before the consultant can work out the optimal approach to achieving a further 10% increase in biodiversity. A mitigation hierarchy will decide the best approach to deliver bng.

Delivering bng requirements

While the preferred option is creating net gain on-site through new habitat or installing bat and bird boxes, where this proves impossible, the net gain may be delivered off-site, or biodiversity credits can be purchased. A completed biodiversity net gain plan can be submitted to the local planning authority as a supplementary planning document for assessment alongside an application for planning permission.

The land management of the site must not change during the pre-planning stage as this would change the biodiversity baseline figure. Breaching the law surrounding biodiversity net gain can result in delays and fines.

Do you need a BNG plan in Buckinghamshire?

Identifying an ecological consultancy with experience in conducting biodiversity net gain surveys for the local planning authority you are dealing with is important. The consultancy should provide a range of ecological services and employ fully qualified consultants who can offer expert advice about mitigating the adverse effects of your development site, from recommending on-site biodiversity units to offset sites such as a habitat bank.

If it proves difficult to mitigate biodiversity loss on your site, their knowledge of suitable sites approved by Buckinghamshire Council for biodiversity offsets may be invaluable. Presenting a viable biodiversity net gain scheme will give your project the best chance of progressing through the planning system and obtaining planning permission.

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