Biodiversity net gain – what do farmers need to know?

William Hargreaves from Savills

William Hargreaves from Savills looks at how land managers can benefit from proposed changes to the planning system - Credit: Savills

We have known about the concept of biodiversity net gain (BNG) for several years. Very simply, it means that developers will have to generate an environmental ‘uplift’ on all their housing schemes – either through on-site or off-site habitat creation or by purchasing statutory units from third parties.

For rural land managers, the emergence of an off-site biodiversity market offers an opportunity to monetise habitat creation. 

A recent government consultation sets out these plans in greater detail. While still subject to change, below is some of the key information: 

  • Although it appears on-site biodiversity uplift will be promoted ahead of off-site habitat creation, a market assessment by environmental consultancy firm Eftec suggests that for 50% of developers this will not be viable. 
  • Biodiversity gain plans will contain details of how developers intend to meet BNG obligations and will be submitted and approved before development starts.
  • In order to count towards a development’s net gain requirement, off-site biodiversity gains will need to be secured through either a conservation covenant or a planning obligation. Off-site biodiversity units are legally required to be managed for at least 30 years.
  • Off-site biodiversity gain will not need to be completed before the BNG units are sold. However, off-site works must commence as soon as is feasible, and no more than 12 months after the BNG condition is discharged. Habitat created or enhanced after January 30 2020 is eligible for the registration and sale of biodiversity units.
  • There will be a publicly available BNG site register published online. It will be a legal requirement to list all off-site biodiversity units allocated to a development.
  • The government is intending that brokerage of off-site agreements will be left to the private market or third parties, and that the pricing of units will be agreed between buyers and sellers. Current prices vary from £10,000 to £40,000 per unit.
  • The intention is that land managers should be able to combine payments for biodiversity units with other payments for environmental services (for example, nature-based carbon and nutrient mitigation) from the same parcel of land, provided they are paying for distinct, additional outcomes.
  • Planning authorities will set specific monitoring requirements for off-site habitat enhancements as part of their planning conditions. It will be the landowner or developer’s responsibility to ensure these are fulfilled.

For advice on the rural sector in Suffolk, contact William Hargreaves at Savills on 01473 234802 or WHargreaves@savills.com