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Biodiversity net gain – Cornwall

With a wide range of important landscapes, from coastal habitats to inland nature reserves, Cornwall places great emphasis on protecting the natural environment. Cornwall Council has a 20-year vision to achieve ecological improvements across Cornwall through implementing biodiversity net gain legislation and has clear policies in place to guide developers.

To satisfy requirements for biodiversity net gain Cornwall Council will need a bng plan submitted alongside planning applications to clarify how development proposals will create biodiversity gain on a site.

Beautiful natural environment: a section of the Cornish Coastal Path.

Biodiversity net gain and the built environment

The UK is one of the most nature depleted countries, according to the State of Nature 2023 report. When the Environment Bill became the Environment Act 2021 after gaining royal assent, biodiversity net gain legislation was introduced to mandate that the natural environment be left in a better state following development.

Legislation in the Environment Act applies to the majority of planning projects, with few exemptions. Natural England announced that biodiversity net gain would become mandatory in November 2023 in England for major planning applications and small sites of nine units or less, and from April 2024 it applied to minor developments and commercial developments of less than 1,000 sq. m.

Biodiversity net gain has been introduced as a planning condition in the National Planning Policy Framework. There are few biodiversity net gain exemptions: deciding to ignore biodiversity net gain requirements can mean consequences from delays to a planning application to fines.

Biodiversity net gain means that there must be at least 10% improvement in biodiversity value on a site post-development compared to pre-development. The net gain increase must be achieved through ecological enhancements, and the improvement measures must be maintained for the long term, at least 30 years. Following a two-year transition period, biodiversity net gain is now mandatory for local authorities and developers.

Natural habitats: views from the cliffs at Tintagel in Cornwall.

Biodiversity net gain and development projects in Cornwall

Biodiversity is a material consideration for Cornwall Council as the local planning authority, and it will request evidence of how a development scheme will deliver the required amount of biodiversity net gain before planning permission is granted. The latest version of Defra’s predetermined biodiversity metric is used to measure the impact of a development on the natural world and a mitigation hierarchy calculates the best way to add 10% biodiversity net gain.

Cornwall Council has produced the Cornwall Planning for Biodiversity Guide, updated in 2023, which clarifies the council’s position on biodiversity net gain and the planning process, providing advice on how planning applicants can ensure development proposals deliver at least 10% biodiversity net gain. Cornwall County Council states that all new residential developments across Cornwall must include the provision of bat and bird boxes and bee bricks. Enhancement measures include extending or improving existing habitats or creating new habitats to offset the impact of the built environment. Cornwall Wildlife Trust is a consultee on many Cornwall planning applications, providing expert advice on the county’s existing biodiversity and natural capital.

When planning permission is granted for new developments, a developer must comply with protected species and habitats legislation as well as adhering to bng policy.

Natural capital

The Cornwall Climate Emergency Development Plan Document, adopted in February 2023, addresses the way that natural climate solutions should be used in the planning process. Particular aims are to protect Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protected Areas, Ramsar sites, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National Nature Reserves, Local Nature Reserves, ancient woodland and county wildlife sites. Development that would impact county wildlife sites will not be supported by Cornwall Council without sound reasons.

New developments monitored by local councils across the Cornwall area must demonstrate how they will retain existing ecological networks and enhance the wider green infrastructure network. If protected species surveys are needed, local planning authorities will require further information from an ecological consultant.

Cornish hedgerows

Cornish hedges are an integral part of the county’s natural environment and one of its important ecological features. As a key wildlife habitat, there is a strong presumption in favour of retaining all hedges in planning projects.

Thrift growing on a Cornish hedge.

The biodiversity net gain assessment

An ecological surveyor will assess biodiversity value by recording all ecological features present within the red line site boundary, and grade them according to condition and strategic significance. Evidence of any protected species and their habitat will be noted; protected species in Cornwall include badgers, dormice, water voles, sand lizards and smooth snakes.

This information will be logged in the Defra biodiversity metric. The consultant will then study the development plans to determine the likely biodiversity value of the site upon completion of the development. Using the two measurements, the surveyor can calculate whether there is a deficit between the two figures – if there is, the optimal ways to eliminate the deficit will be worked out using a mitigation hierarchy before a minimum net gain increase of 10% is added to fulfil bng requirements.

If adding net gain proves impossible on-site, biodiversity units can be delivered off-site alongside a legal agreement to detail how the site will be managed for 30 years. The last resort option is to purchase biodiversity credits.

The completed bng plan will include details of the survey process and information about the necessary compensation required on the site, by reference to the mitigation hierarchy. It will confirm that improvements to natural habitats will meet the 10% uplift to comply with biodiversity net gain law and the National Planning Policy Framework, satisfying the local planning authority that due process has been followed and enabling it to grant planning consent.

Do you need a biodiversity net gain plan in Cornwall?

The first step is to engage an environmental consultancy with prior knowledge of Cornwall Council’s requirements for biodiversity net gain surveys. The firm should employ fully qualified consultants who may be members of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM).

Whether you have a major development site or a minor development scheme, professional ecologists can offer expert advice on the best ways of improving the existing biodiversity value of your site, which may involve altering development plans, habitat improvement, or creating new habitats to fulfil a planning condition. Early implementation of their advice will give you the best chance of complying with the biodiversity net gain legislation to leave a development site in a better state, allowing you to proceed to obtain planning permission.

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