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Biodiversity Net Gain – Devon

All planning applications must consider their impact on the natural world following the implementation of biodiversity net gain legislation. Since biodiversity net gain bng was introduced as a core policy in the Environment Act 2021, new developments must leave a site in a measurably better state than they found it, according to the Defra biodiversity net gain metric 4.0.

This means that within the Devon County Council area, a development scheme must not only maintain its current state of biodiversity value, but it has to enhance biodiversity by a minimum of 10% post-development. Local planning authorities across Devon will require a biodiversity net gain plan to be submitted with planning applications for new schemes to clarify a strategy for nature recovery and delivering bng to achieve planning permissions. 

A section of the coastal path at Woolacombe.

Devon County Council’s bng plan

Devon County Councils along with National Park Authorities and partners including Natural England, the Environment Agency, RSPB, Woodland Trust, and North Devon Biosphere Reserve, developed the Devon Planning Guidance for Biodiversity Compensation and Net Gain 2024, which provides guidance on biodiversity net gain across all Devon local planning authorities, including for nationally significant infrastructure projects. Specific biodiversity net gain requirements and planning policies are clarified on individual Devon local councils’ websites. Developers can access existing Devon biodiversity net gain habitat banks (wildlife habitats created to sell biodiversity units) to enable the delivery of off site gain requirements.

Nature recovery

Trees, hedges, orchards, and ancient woodland are highly valued features of Devon’s natural environment, providing wildlife habitats, stabilising soils, and filtering air pollution. Devon hedges are of historical importance and are monitored by the Devon Hedge Group which provides advice about hedgerow management.

East Devon, which includes the Jurassic Coast, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, diverse wildlife habitats and species, and sites of national and international wildlife importance, is balancing the need for growth with minimum environmental damage. The East Devon Local Plan contains strategies to safeguard the coast and rural areas and enable more green space in towns, creating links to the surrounding countryside to encourage ecological networks, while to cater for the need for new development, a low-carbon new town at Cranbrook in East Devon is under construction.

Underlining Devon councils’ environmental concerns, the Plymouth and South West Devon Joint Local Plan confirms that both councils, along with South Hams and West Devon, have declared a Climate Emergency, while South Hams and West Devon have also declared a Biodiversity Emergency.

Merrivale, Dartmoor.

Biodiversity net gain legislation

According to the State of Nature 2023 report, the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries. To halt the decline, biodiversity net gain regulations were introduced to mandate that the natural environment is left in a better general biodiversity gain condition following a development scheme. The measure was proposed in the Environment Bill which became the Environment Act 2021 after gaining royal assent; biodiversity net gain became part of the planning process which saw the statutory framework introduced in the National Planning Policy Framework. After a two-year transition period, biodiversity net gain principles are now mandatory for local authorities and developers.

Biodiversity net gain legislation applies to the majority of planning projects, with few exemptions. Mandatory biodiversity net gain was brought in on 12th February 2024 in England for major developments, and minor developments of nine units or less, and it applied to small sites from April 2024: the planning system allows for few biodiversity net gain exemptions.

Biodiversity net gain good practice principles for development

To satisfy local planning authorities’ general biodiversity gain condition requirements, a development site must demonstrate a minimum 10% improvement in biodiversity value post-development compared to pre-development by use of the statutory biodiversity metric. This must be achieved through measures to enhance biodiversity on-site such as improvements to existing habitats, and a bng plan must clarify the management and monitoring of the scheme over the long term, at least 30 years.

Should it prove impossible to add net gain to a site, biodiversity units can be delivered off-site. This process requires a legal agreement or conservation covenant to set out a biodiversity net gain 30 years management and monitoring strategy. The last resort option to achieve a biodiversity gain objective is to buy bng credits from the national biodiversity credits scheme.

Important natural environment: the Old Harry Rocks on the Jurassic Coast.

The Biodiversity Net Gain assessment

The process begins with a biodiversity net gain consultant examining the proposed development site and recording all the ecological features present. These might include trees, hedgerows, evidence of protected species, or wildlife habitats. Each will be given a biodiversity value, and the data will be logged into the Defra biodiversity net gain metric which will calculate the site’s pre-development biodiversity value.

The ecological surveyor will then study the post-development plans to assess the site’s likely value on completion. When this figure is inputted into the Defra biodiversity net gain metric, the difference between the two readings must be eliminated before the ecological surveyor can calculate the best way to achieve a further 10% increase in measurable gains, using a biodiversity net gain mitigation hierarchy.

Meeting the biodiversity gain objective

Creating net gain on-site is the preferred option: biodiversity net gain examples may include simple measures such as installing bird or bat boxes or creating new habitats. Where it proves impossible to add biodiversity net gains to a site, bng offsetting may be the best option for delivering the required net gain.

Following this strategic approach, a biodiversity net gain report can be submitted to the local planning authority to be considered alongside an application for planning permission. Alterations to the site’s management or ecological features must not be made during the pre-planning stage as this will affect bng baseline data. Breaching biodiversity net gain legislation can result in delays to a planning application, fines, or a prison sentence.

Hay Tor rocks on Dartmoor.

Do you need a biodiversity net gain plan in Devon?

It’s important to identify a consultancy that employs fully qualified ecological consultants with experience in conducting biodiversity net gain surveys for the relevant local planning authority overseen by Devon County Council.

A biodiversity net gain consultant will provide guidance on navigating the biodiversity net gain planning process and deal with any further information you may need to submit with your planning application to comply with biodiversity net gain planning requirements. Taking a strategic approach after assessing the relevant information, they will recommend the best ways to achieve your biodiversity gain requirements in the biodiversity gain plan and ensure that you see your development granted planning permission.

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