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Biodiversity net gain Cumbria

Cumbria is the second largest county in England, home to the Lake District National Park and Lake Windermere: meeting the requirements of biodiversity net gain (BNG) in such a landscape may seem challenging, but a biodiversity gain plan can establish the best way to comply with the policy.

To halt the decline in the UK’s wildlife, biodiversity net gain is now part of national policy, requiring planning projects to improve biodiversity. Local planning authorities in Cumbria will need a biodiversity net gain bng plan alongside a planning application to satisfy biodiversity net gain requirements. The plan must demonstrate that a proposed development site will leave the natural environment in a measurably better state than its pre-development condition.

Lake Windermere, one of many natural assets in the Lake District.

Biodiversity net gain policy

The Environment Bill introduced numerous policies aimed at protecting the natural environment. When the Bill gained royal assent and became the Environment Act 2021, the biodiversity net gain concept became part of the National Planning Policy Framework. Biodiversity net gain incorporates many strategies for enhancing biodiversity, including climate change considerations, water quality, clean air, and sustainable development. Biodiversity net gain alters the planning process; it means that valuable habitat on a site must not only be protected but the site’s biodiversity value must be improved by a minimum of 10% on completion as a legal requirement.

To give local planning authorities and developers time to adjust, a two year transition period was allowed before mandatory biodiversity net gain was brought in. Natural England announced that biodiversity net gain would become mandatory in November 2023 in England for major sites and small sites of nine units or less, and from April 2024 the policy applied to smaller sites. There are now few exemptions to biodiversity net gain legislation when it comes to determining planning applications.

Beautiful natural habitats surround Esthwaite Water.

Biodiversity net gain Cumbria

On April 1, 2023, the six district councils and Cumbria County Council were replaced by two new unitary authorities, Cumberland Council and Westmorland & Furness Council, which work with Cumbria’s district and National Park authorities to ensure a consistent approach to sustainable development.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the Nature Recovery Network, Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS), and planning policy guidance all protect the natural environment and ensure that developments adhere to the biodiversity net gain Cumbria policy, along with Cumbria Local Nature Partnership Strategy and Cumbria Wildlife Trust, which work to protect the irreplaceable habitat of the Lake District for future generations to enjoy.

Improve biodiversity

While Cumbria has 1,634 wildlife sites and 278 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Cumberland Council and all local authorities across the county are seeking sites suitable for biodiversity net gain habitat enhancement, which could include new woodland, hay meadows, or improvements to species-rich grassland.

Four protected natural habitats in Cumbria have been damaged by phosphorous pollution and local authorities are seeking sites in these catchment areas that could be delivered and reduce the level of phosphorous entering the site – these are the Esthwaite Water Ramsar; River Derwent and Bassenthwaite Lake Special Conservation Area; River Eden Special Conservation Area and the River Kent Special Conservation Area.

Wildlife rich places: Derwent Water and Bassenthwaite Lake.

The biodiversity net gain assessment

An ecological surveyor will make a site visit to assess all the ecological features present in the red line site boundary, including the most valuable existing habitat. They will look for evidence of protected species such as great crested newts or barn owls. The information will then be logged into the Defra biodiversity metric and a calculation will be made of the site’s ecological value. The consultant will then study the plans to predict the ecological value of the site on completion. This second biodiversity measurement will be entered into the biodiversity metric, and the difference between these two figures must align before the consultant can establish the best way to achieve a further 10% increase in biodiversity value on the proposed development site. Evidence must also be provided to show how the measures to enhance biodiversity will be maintained for the long term – at least 30 years.

During the biodiversity net gain assessment, a mitigation hierarchy will be used to identify the best compensation strategy for the development project, which might involve tweaking the original pre development plans or simple measures such as installing bat or bird boxes. Creating net gain on site is the preferred option according to planning guidance. Measures may include habitat creation, planting trees, or laying new hedges. While delivering net gain on site is the preferred national policy option, if this proves impossible due to a site’s limitations, the required number of biodiversity units may be delivered off site. The last resort opportunity is to purchase biodiversity units and an ecological consultant can offer further information about this.

Complying with UK law

When the recommended nature conservation measures have been carried out, the biodiversity net gain survey can be submitted to the local planning authority, allowing it to grant planning permission when it’s examined in conjunction with a planning application. Ignoring the requirements of biodiversity net gain or changing land use or land management practices during the pre application period, can result in setbacks to planning applications and financial penalties.

Do you need a biodiversity net gain plan in Cumbria?

A biodiversity net gain plan carried out by an ecological consultant will give you the best chance of achieving planning permission for a development project. Identifying an environmental consultancy with experience in completing biodiversity net gain plans for the local planning authority in question is important.

Fully qualified BNG consultants, who may be members of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM), can offer advice on the correct measures to enhance biodiversity, whether that means altering planning projects or creating new wildlife habitats.

Following professional advice about the optimal route for enhancing biodiversity on your site will clarify the best way for your scheme to proceed through the planning system and obtain planning permission.

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