This briefing from the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) outlines what biodiversity net gain is, how it works, how it can be applied to development, agriculture and the marine environment, and the action required by policy-makers.

CIEEM believes that the “biodiversity net gain” approach is the most effective way to halt biodiversity loss and restore natural capital. [1] whilst also supporting a thriving economy. It is a transformative approach to management of the land and seas that offers us the best chance of leaving the environment in a better state for future generations.

What is ‘biodiversity net gain’?

Biodiversity net gain is using land or the marine environment in a way that leaves biodiversity in a better state than before, in line with current UK governments’ policies, including for example England’s 25-Year Environment Plan. [2] Inevitably many human activities, often vital to society’s well-being, impact on the natural world.

Land, a finite resource, is needed for food production, for housing, for infrastructure and for businesses and, with a growing UK population, we are often faced with making difficult choices as to how we use our land and seas. We have also increasingly recognised the importance of a healthy, resilient environment, which includes a rich biodiversity, as a contributor to human health and wellbeing and to a vibrant economy.

For many years we have tried to find ways to encourage appropriate use of land whilst minimising negative effects on the environment. Despite setting targets of ‘no net loss’ of biodiversity and following a ‘mitigation hierarchy’ in development planning of ‘avoid, mitigate, compensate’ we are still seeing worrying declines in species numbers and abundance. [3] No net loss is not working and we need a more ambitious and radical approach.

Biodiversity net gain is based on the premise that land use which has a negative impact on the natural environment, such as some types of built development and food production, should provide opportunities for more biodiversity benefit than is being lost. This can be achieved by creating new habitats, restoring damaged habitats or by funding others to do so.

The biodiversity ‘gain’ is targeted to areas where the potential benefits can be most effective, based on the Lawton principles of ‘more, bigger, better, joined up’ [4] (e.g. creating new, natural corridors to join up disconnected areas of habitat; enlarging existing areas to make them more resilient to disturbance and climate change; and providing access for people to nature).

Biodiversity net gain should be targeted according to a local or landscape-scale plan of biodiversity opportunities so that an appropriate range of species and habitats are supported to deliver a range of ecosystem services. The approach would not be helpful if only new woodland, for example, was being created.

[1] Natural capital is the stock of natural assets such as biodiversity, soil and water. Natural capital provides services, often called ecosystem services, which are essential for human wellbeing.

[2] HMG (2018) A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment

[3] State of Nature Report (2016) RSPB, Sandy

[4] Professor Sir John Lawton’s 2010 report for Defra Making Space for Nature: A Review of England’s Wildlife Sites and Ecological Network

The rest of the briefing can be found here.

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This briefing from the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) outlines what biodiversity net gain is, how it works, how it can be applied

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