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Biodiversity Net Gain – Gloucestershire

Biodiversity net gain (BNG) legislation has been introduced to put protection of the natural environment at the forefront of decisions about development. It means that development schemes must leave the environment in a measurably better state than they found it, according to a biodiversity metric. To satisfy requirements for biodiversity net gain Gloucestershire County Council requires BNG plans to be submitted alongside planning applications. 

A view to Stroud in Gloucestershire.

The aims of biodiversity net gain

On receiving royal assent, the Environment Bill became the Environment Act 2021, introducing biodiversity net gain into planning policy. Following a two-year transition period, to allow developers and local authorities time to adapt to the requirements, it is now part of the National Planning Policy Framework.

BNG was introduced in The Environment Act as a key policy to reduce the decline in nature experienced in the UK: since the 1970s the UK has lost around 19% of its native species. In response, BNG requires developers to not only maintain a site’s biodiversity value post-development but also to then increase this value by a minimum of 10% through schemes to enhance the natural environment. Evidence of the proposed nature recovery measures must be provided along with details of how they will be maintained for at least 30 years.

Nature recovery

In November 2023 Natural England made biodiversity net gain mandatory in England for large sites and small sites of up to nine units and from April 2024, BNG applied to smaller sites and commercial developments of under 1,000 sq.m. This nature first approach is designed to have a meaningful impact on the natural environment and is significantly influencing the development world.

All development projects need to obtain a biodiversity net gain plan to clarify to local planning authorities that completed schemes will lead to increased levels of local biodiversity according to a universal biodiversity metric.

The village of Upper Slaughter in Gloucestershire.

Gloucestershire and biodiversity net gain

Gloucestershire County Council published a climate change strategy in 2021 that outlined its approach to improving the state of the county’s natural environment up to 2027. Key aims include reducing carbon emissions from vehicles and buildings with a long-term goal of 100% net zero carbon emissions by 2045 and BNG plays a pivotal role in achieving these targets.

Information about BNG was provided by Gloucestershire Local Nature Partnership in their document, `Interim Guidance on delivering Biodiversity Net Gain for planning applicants and developers in Gloucestershire’. The latest version is dated February 2024.

Planning applicants must make all efforts to avoid impacting existing habitats on a development site. These might include woodland, scrub, and wildflower grassland. Such habitats could be enhanced by changes to land management to increase their biodiversity value and achieve the necessary amount of BNG.

If it is impossible to improve biodiversity on a development site through habitat creation, BNG units can be delivered off-site on areas nearby in need of enhancement: a legal agreement must lay out how such sites will be managed for 30 years. The third option is to purchase BNG units or credits: off-site biodiversity units can be purchased from Gloucestershire’s biodiversity broker The Gloucestershire Nature and Climate Fund, which was initiated by the Gloucestershire Local Nature Partnership. Purchasing national credits is the last resort option.

Cleeve Hill near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, is the highest point in the Cotswolds.

The BNG assessment

An ecological consultant will record all the ecological features present in the red line site boundary, such as European-protected plant and animal species, and allocate them a biodiversity net gain value. The information will be logged into the universal biodiversity metric, developed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which will calculate the site’s current ecological value.

The metric’s Strategic Significance Multiplier identifies the optimal areas for habitat improvement to create net gain. Then, a second biodiversity measurement will be inputted into the metric, based on a prediction of the condition of the completed site according to the developer’s plans. The difference between these two figures must be eliminated before the best way of achieving a further 10% increase in biodiversity is worked out.

As part of the BNG assessment, the ecological consultant will refer to a mitigation hierarchy to assess the most effective approach. National policy states that the optimal solution is the creation of net gain on-site via methods such as new habitat creation or steps to ensure wildlife is not disturbed. If the required number of biodiversity units cannot be achieved on-site, they may be acquired off-site, or purchased in the marketplace.

Applying for planning permissions

The completed biodiversity net gain plan will include results from the BNG assessment, and any supporting surveys required to achieve a successful planning application. This document can be submitted to the local planning authority to be assessed alongside a planning application.

The current site management must be continued during the pre-planning stage – changes to the site’s existing habitats would be seen as a deviation from the biodiversity baseline. Ignoring the requirements of biodiversity net gain planning policy can result in delays to planning applications and unlimited fines.

Do you need a BNG plan in Gloucestershire?

A comprehensive biodiversity net gain plan completed by a reputable ecological consultancy will provide the best chance of obtaining planning permission.

The consultancy that you engage should employ fully qualified consultants with experience in undertaking biodiversity net gain plans for the relevant local planning authority. Their guidance will enable you to mitigate the adverse effects of your development scheme, add to local biodiversity, and help your application progress through the planning process.

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