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Biodiversity Net Gain – Forest of Dean

Biodiversity net gain legislation means that nature must be prioritised in the planning process. The environment must be left in a measurably better state on completion of development than before the works began, and the improvements must be maintained over the long term, at least 30 years.

When considering planning applications, the Forest of Dean District Council requires evidence of how a development aims to protect nature. A biodiversity net gain bng plan will provide the detail needed to demonstrate that bng requirements will be met, allowing you to achieve a successful planning application.

The Forest of Dean.

Biodiversity net gain law

The biodiversity net gain concept evolved in response to the rapid decline in UK wildlife. Biodiversity net gain was introduced in the Environment Bill. When this received royal assent and became the Environment Act 2021, a raft of new policies were brought in, including biodiversity net gain which became part of the planning process. A two-year transition period allowed local councils and developers time to adjust before mandatory biodiversity net gain was established on 12 February 2024 for all major developments in England, and from 2 April 2024, it applied to all developments.

Bng legislation means that developers must provide local authorities with evidence of how they will maintain the standard of biodiversity on a development site and enhance it by a further 10% minimum before they can obtain planning permission. The Act also states that bng sites must be maintained for at least 30 years. While some councils began to implement bng immediately, others decided to impose a higher level of bng requirement of 15% or 20%. The Forest of Dean District Council demanded that developers provide the mandatory 10% increase in bng in planning applications.

Wild daffodils at Dymock in the Forest of Dean.

The bng assessment

Using the Defra biodiversity net gain metric 4.0, an ecological consultant will assess a site’s ecological features, which may include European protected species and areas such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, to calculate its biodiversity value. By studying the developer’s plan for the site, a calculation can be made of its post development bng value. The pre-development and post development figures will be logged into the biodiversity measuring tool and compared, to calculate the level of improvement needed to meet the minimum 10% uplift in biodiversity value.

A mitigation hierarchy will be used to calculate the optimal approach. If there is a shortfall, the bng assessment will establish the best way to meet the bng mandate. Some sites may require further surveys if protected species or habitats are discovered, and the consultant will be able to provide further information about this. National policy states that delivering net gain on-site is the preferred option; this may mean habitat creation or mitigation measures for wildlife. In cases where on-site delivery of bng is impossible, the net gains may be delivered off-site. The last resort option is to purchase biodiversity units in the marketplace.

Local planning authorities will rely on the measures contained in ecological surveys when deciding whether to grant planning applications. Failure to comply with biodiversity net gain requirements can result in fines and delays.

The River Wye flows through the Forest of Dean.

The Forest of Dean District Council and bng

The Forest of Dean District Council clarifies its bng policy in the Wildlife and Biodiversity section of its website, which notes that good practice principles for development published by CIEEM should be followed when planning developments. While bng should be provided on the development site, when this proves impossible, the net gain may be delivered off-site in agreement with the district council.

Working with Gloucestershire Nature and Climate Fund, the council has curated a supply of potential off-site bng delivery sites. A bng broker may also be used to identify off-site bng opportunities. The local planning authority will need proof that the mitigation hierarchy has been followed when agreeing to off-site bng. The Gloucestershire Nature Recovery Network map should be used to indicate locations for bng enhancement. As a last resort, an applicant can buy biodiversity net gain credits from the UK government when offsetting options are not available locally. To ensure that compensatory bng habitats are maintained for the long term, a conservation covenant will be needed by local planning authorities: this is a legal agreement between a landowner and a responsible body such as a conservation charity.

Wider Gloucestershire and bng

Local planning authorities in Gloucestershire clarify their position on bng in the document `Guidance on delivering Biodiversity Net Gain for planning applicants and developers in Gloucestershire.’ Nature recovery network mapping in Gloucestershire, led by the Gloucestershire Local Nature Partnership and Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, created a habitat inventory and Nature Recovery Network (NRN) map.

Paragraph 180 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) notes the importance of enhancing ecological networks, such as wildlife corridors and areas identified for habitat management, enhancement, and restoration. The NRN mapping helps Gloucestershire’s local planning authorities comply with the NPPF by showing priority areas for habitat preservation and improvement. These include open habitats such as lowland meadows, woodland, freshwater wetlands, and arable land where there are farmland bird opportunities, rare plant habitats, and traditional orchards.

When complete, The Gloucestershire Local Nature Recovery Strategy will be used to identify optimal areas for bng. Developers must avoid valuable existing habitat, and habitat creation should be targeted at areas where it will most benefit nature recovery. The bng metric’s strategic significance multiplier calculates how the spatial location of a habitat will influence its value.

Do you need a biodiversity net gain plan?

If you are looking for a trustworthy ecological consultancy to carry out bng assessments, select one that employs fully qualified ecological consultants. They should be experienced in creating biodiversity net gain plans for the relevant local planning authority, providing reassurance that their expert advice will guide you on the best way to achieve net gain on your site. This approach should ensure a smooth route through the planning process, allowing the district council to approve your planning application.

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