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Biodiversity net gain – Surrey

Developers must make conservation of the natural environment central to their plans following the introduction of biodiversity net gain (BNG) legislation. BNG means that the environment must be left in a measurably better state post-development than it was pre-development, and the improvements must be maintained for the long term, at least 30 years.

As a result of mandatory BNG, a biodiversity net gain Surrey survey will need to be submitted alongside an application for planning permission before consent will be granted by local authorities.

Beautiful natural environment: a view from Box Hill on The North Downs at Dorking in Surrey.

BNG requirements

The Environment Act 2021 introduced biodiversity net gain to halt the decline in the quality of the natural world caused by development projects. Following a two-year transition period, biodiversity net gain became mandatory in November 2023 in England for larger sites and was extended to minor developments in February 2024. Biodiversity net gain aims to ensure that not only is the existing biodiversity value of a site retained, but a developed site is required to deliver an increased biodiversity net gain value of a minimum of 10% on completion.

Local biodiversity in Surrey includes the rare heathland habitat of Chobham Common.

Surrey’s important landscapes

Surrey is a green and biodiverse county, with landscapes ranging from the chalk meadows of the North Downs to 3,500 hectares of internationally rare heathland, including Wisley & Ockham Common and Chobham Common, important habitat for the Dartford warbler and smooth snake. It also includes over 12,000 hectares of ancient woodland, and 300 hectares of chalk grassland along with river networks including the Mole, Wey, and Thames.

As well as biodiversity net gain being a planning requirement of the National Planning Policy Framework and subsequently for Surrey County Council, Surrey Wildlife Trust also provides BNG guidance, including information on a credit system for making financial contributions to off-site BNG, carbon sequestration and natural flood management to combat climate change. At a local level, BNG is supported by local plan policy in the Local Nature Recovery Strategy and Surrey Nature Partnership.

While mandatory biodiversity net gain requirements may seem onerous, with the correct guidance the necessary measures can be identified to integrate BNG into development proposals and satisfy local planning authorities.

The Dartford warbler can be found on Chobham Common.

Biodiversity Net Gain assessment

An ecologist will make a pre-development assessment of the proposed development site to calculate its biodiversity value. All ecological features will be indexed, such as European protected plant and animal species and areas such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

A post-development measurement will then be made, based on the development proposals. This information will be inputted into the latest DEFRA biodiversity metric, and the deficit between the two results can then be assessed to work out the necessary changes that will enable the site to achieve the minimal 10% increase in biodiversity. This often means retaining existing on-site habitats followed by implementing changes according to a mitigation hierarchy. Creating net gain on-site is the preferred option according to national policy, and methods typically include habitat creation or mitigation measures for wildlife such as installing bird boxes or bat boxes.

If it proves impossible to achieve sufficient on-site gains, biodiversity units may be bought off-site to meet the mandate. The last resort option is to purchase statutory biodiversity units which will be used to aid national nature recovery projects: this habitat bank option is administered by Natural England.

The Surrey Wildlife Trust has its own habitat bank programme on various local biodiversity opportunity areas including parts of the North Downs and the Mole floodplain. The Surrey Nature Partnership has an inventory of irreplaceable grassland habitats across the county which could also benefit from off-site net gain habitat.

When the best way forward has been established, the biodiversity net gain plan can be completed and passed to the local planning authority to support a planning application. The local planning authority will rely on the information contained in the BNG plan when determining a planning application. Disregarding biodiversity net gain legal requirements can result in delays to development plans or financial penalties.

Do you need a Biodiversity Net Gain plan in Surrey?

The first step is to identify an ecological consultancy that employs fully qualified ecological consultants who are experienced in creating BNG plans for the relevant local planning authority; this will reassure you that their advice can be relied on to achieve BNG on your site, helping you to secure a successful planning application.

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