Lessons from the BNG coalface

It was great to see the extent to which the biodiversity net gain (BNG) industry is moving forward apace at the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) Spring Conference: “Taking Biodiversity Net Gain from Theory to Practice” in Birmingham on Tuesday, 22 March.

Our Director Jon Davies presented a talk at the conference titled “Variety is the Spice of Life: lessons from the BNG coalface”. The talk was very well received and prompted much debate, not least around the amount of resourcing and upskilling that will be required by the local planning authorities, the thorny issue of whether it’s better to offset on-site or off (for the record, we’re in the landscape-scale off-site camp!) and the need for firm regulation and accreditation for the biodiversity credits market.

Jon also flagged up the need to make sure that species are properly considered in restoration projects; that we optimise the other environmental benefits gained; that we all work together collaboratively to make BNG achieves the biodiversity outcomes we all want; and that BNG should work effectively alongside other initiatives, such as the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), regenerative agriculture, carbon net zero and rewilding, in order to maximise the benefits.

In the keynote speech, RSK Wilding’s old friend Peter Shepherd raised a note of caution, primarily to ensure that we properly make the most of the opportunity provided by the Environment Act – probably the most significant piece of environmental legislation since the 1949 National Parks Act and the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act – and ensure that effective habitat restoration is achieved at scale across the country. There were also key talks from David Hill of the Environment Bank, Bob Edmonds of UKHab, the East West Rail Alliance, NatureMetrics, Nick White from Natural England and Max Heaver from Defra. The latter two are behind the Defra Biodiversity Metric and the BNG Defra consultation respectively, and it was extremely useful to hear their perspectives on the development of the processes that we will soon all be following.

As usual, the conference was a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and former colleagues (and actually in person!) and to get a true sense of the enthusiasm for the whole BNG approach. It feels like we are at the start of a real step-change in biodiversity conservation and enhancement.