By Dr Richard Bloor, Wilder Towns Manager at Kent Wildlife Trust
The government has committed to new laws that will make it mandatory for property developers to deliver an overall increase in biodiversity on or near to development sites. This “biodiversity net gain” approach involves not only combating loss of wildlife habitat resulting from construction, but also creates an opportunity for it to be left better off.
Following consultations with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), where the Wildlife Trusts were given the opportunity to make the case for putting wildlife at the heart of planning policy, it has been confirmed that biodiversity net gain will be mandated in the forthcoming Environment Bill. Developers will be required to create a measurable amount of new wildlife habitat that is at least ten percent greater than the amount lost as a result of any new development. This is a major advancement for organisations like Kent Wildlife Trust where we are currently implementing our strategy for a wilder Kent and trying to create a greater abundance of wildlife by restoring natural processes.
DEFRA explains that developers will be required to evaluate the type of habitat and its condition on site and then produce plans that demonstrate how they will enhance biodiversity as part of all planning applications. They can do this, for instance, through the creation of green corridors, by planting more trees, or forming new local spaces for nature. Enhancements on or next to development sites will be preferred, but in the rare circumstances where this is not possible, developers will need to pay to create or restore habitats elsewhere.
Kent Wildlife Trust welcomes this new policy as a way of making planning policy towards nature more transparent and as a potential opportunity to fund the restoration of some of Kent’s most valuable habitats on a large scale. But we also recognise the risks that this potential might not be realised if conservation organisations like ourselves are not involved from the start to guide and shape implementation at a local level. We need to make sure that developers are delivering what is being required by law, and that new funds for habitat creation are being targeted to where it can make the biggest difference for wildlife. For this reason we are working closely with government agencies, local authorities, conservation charities and private companies within the Kent Nature Partnership, to create a countywide biodiversity net gain strategy that will ensure that this is not an opportunity missed.
Through our planning team we will support local planning authorities to make sure that the requirements of these new laws are embedded at the core of local planning policies and environmental strategies. We aim to ensure that we all have access to wildlife in our towns and cities by helping to create new green spaces, improve existing ones and making sure people can access them. This way, wildlife and people will flourish.
Through our Wildlife Trust Consultancy, KWT Consultancy Services, we will encourage developers to embrace a more joined up approach to meeting their legal obligations to nature. We will support businesses and further influence how commercial and development work can embody the principles of Kent Wildlife Trust. Through our reserves teams we will investigate opportunities to use funding from developers to expand the area of land under management for wildlife, and help us to realise our vision for a wilder Kent on the ground.
In the coming months we will be working with our partners to establish pilot projects that will test the most effective ways to use this new policy to get the best outcomes for wildlife. Following this we aim to use developer funding as part of larger plans to set up a strategic Nature Recovery Network of habitat creation projects spanning across the county.
The natural world isn’t just a nice to have; it sustains us and the decline of nature puts our very survival and prosperity under threat. Legislation and policy that makes achieving biodiversity net gain from development mandatory could represent a major leap forward in funding critical work for nature’s recovery. Kent Wildlife Trust want to make certain that this policy is taken seriously as a tool to achieve meaningful and large gain positive gains to biodiversity across Kent.
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