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Biodiversity Net Gain – Wiltshire

Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) was introduced in the Environment Act 2021 as a key policy directive to improve nature recovery in the UK.

To comply with BNG legislation, a development scheme must not only maintain the same standard of biodiversity post-development as it had predevelopment, but the site must achieve a 10% uplift in biodiversity value. According to a biodiversity metric, new developments must leave the natural environment in a measurably better state than they found it.

To satisfy the mandate for biodiversity net gain Wiltshire Council requires BNG plans to be submitted alongside planning applications for new development. 

The White Horse at Westbury is one of Wiltshire’s most famous local sites.

Wiltshire Council’s approach to nature recovery

Wiltshire Council clarifies its position in Core Policy 50 of the Wiltshire Core Strategy which requires a proposed development site to demonstrate that there will be no net loss to nature and a minimum 10% biodiversity net gain.

A biodiversity net gain assessment must be made of the site’s existing ecology at the design stage, to identify habitats and protected species and establish how the development plans will affect ecological networks. Ecological surveys must be carried out by qualified ecological consultants holding the relevant species licences and surveys must be carried out at the correct time of the year according to the guidelines.

The way a scheme would fit into the local landscape is important, for example, its effect on the adjacent natural world as there is an emphasis on maintaining and enhancing local ecological networks across the Wiltshire Council area. The Local Nature Recovery Strategy details the key sites where improvements would be most beneficial across Wiltshire, and neighbourhood plans are also relevant. Expanding and joining up wildlife corridors to allow protected species to roam over a larger area is another way Wiltshire Council plans to boost nature recovery and help species’ resilience to change.

Once a BNG plan clarifies the ecological features of a site, the potential to enhance nature there can be established. Habitat enhancement should be designed to help meet targets in Wiltshire’s Biodiversity Action Plan and Local Nature Recovery Strategy.  

A Ruddy Darter dragonfly photographed in Coleshill Park, Wiltshire.

The aims of biodiversity net gain

When the Environment Bill received royal assent and became the Environment Act 2021, it introduced BNG to reduce the severe decline in nature and protected species experienced in the UK since the 1970s. A two-year transition period began to allow local authorities and developers time to adjust to the new legislation which is now part of the National Planning Policy Framework.

The main change introduced by BNG is that developers must maintain a site’s biodiversity value post-development and provide evidence of how a scheme will increase this value by a minimum of 10% via initiatives to enhance the natural environment. The proposed nature recovery strategy must be maintained for at least 30 years and evidence of how this will be guaranteed is also a planning condition.

Nature first

BNG legislation was made mandatory in November 2023 by Natural England for major development sites and small sites of up to nine units. The legislation was applied to smaller sites and commercial developments under 1,000 sq.m. from April 2024.

Local planning authorities now require a biodiversity net gain plan for all development schemes to demonstrate that a completed project will increase its biodiversity level according to a universal biodiversity metric. If it proves impossible to upgrade biodiversity levels on-site, BNG units can be delivered off-site, preferably on identified areas of land in need of enhancement, or as part of a nature recovery network. If this option is chosen, a legal agreement must be drawn up to clarify how nature recovery on such sites will be managed for 30 years. A last resort option is purchasing national BNG credits.

Silbury Hill in Wiltshire.

The Biodiversity Net Gain assessment

During a site visit, an ecological consultant will identify all the habitat features and species present in the red line site boundary, giving each a biodiversity net gain value. This information will be logged into the DEFRA universal biodiversity metric and a reading of the site’s current ecological value can be obtained. The optimal areas for habitat improvements that will result in measurable net gains can then be identified using the metric’s Strategic Significance Multiplier.

The consultant will then assess the development plans to predict the condition of the natural environment upon completion of the scheme and input this biodiversity measurement into the metric. The gap between the two figures must be made to tally before the optimal approach to achieving a further 10% increase in biodiversity is calculated, with reference to a mitigation hierarchy.

According to national policy, the preferred option is creating net gain on-site; methods may include new habitat creation or simple measures such as installing bat and bird boxes. In cases where it proves impossible to achieve biodiversity gain on-site, the required number of BNG units may be acquired off-site or BNG credits can be purchased.

BNG compliance

Once completed, a biodiversity net gain plan can be submitted to the local authority which will assess it in conjunction with a planning application. It’s important to note that the way the proposed site is managed must not alter during the pre-planning stage as changes to existing habitats would be regarded as causing a deviation from the biodiversity baseline figure. If the law surrounding biodiversity net gain planning policy is ignored, the result can be delays to planning applications and fines.

Do you need a BNG plan in Wiltshire?

The first step is to engage a reputable consultancy that provides a range of ecological services. It should employ fully qualified consultants experienced in working on BNG plans for the relevant local authority. Their expert guidance will give you the best chance of mitigating the adverse effects of your development project to create the required amount of measurable net gain, allowing your scheme to proceed through the planning system.

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