In response to the widespread loss of biodiversity and in acknowledgement of its importance for a sustainable economy and for society in general, the UK has introduced legislation that is designed to improve air and water quality, tackle waste, increase recycling, halt the decline of species, and improve the natural environment. The UK Environment Act requires developments to result in a 10% net gain in biodiversity.
In order to calculate biodiversity losses and gains, a system of accounting has been derived and published by Natural England. This is titled the Biodiversity Metric 3.1, and it calculates the number of biodiversity units on a site based on the species and habitats present prior to development. The metric is used again to calculate the number of biodiversity units on a site following the completion of a development, and it is a mandatory requirement that there is a 10% net gain. This requires careful design to minimise biodiversity loss and provide measures in every development to enhance the natural environment. It should be noted that the principle of avoiding and minimising biodiversity loss in the design of developments is preferable, with mitigation and restoration undertaken where this is not possible. In many cases, through careful design, it is possible to provide Biodiversity Net Gain within a development site; in others, it must be provided off-site. On-site net gain is preferable; if this cannot be achieved, a higher quantum of habitat is likely to be required to deliver it off-site. The metric takes into account the distinctiveness of habitats and species, the areas lost and gained, and the time it will take for certain habitats to develop. It should also be noted that the metric does not apply to habitats and species that are either designated for conservation or considered to be irreplaceable, such as intact peatlands or limestone pavement.
This ground-breaking legislation is specifically designed not only to halt biodiversity loss but to restore natural ecosystems. Whilst Biodiversity Net Gain is not yet specifically required under Irish or EU legislation, the EU Nature Restoration Targets (mandated by the proposed Nature Restoration Regulations) do set ambitious goals for halting the decline of biodiversity and restoring the natural environment. They will require a concerted and coordinated effort from all sectors if they are to be achieved.
MKO has been using the Natural England Biodiversity Matrix 3.1 to undertake assessments in Ireland to allow developers to achieve a Biodiversity Net Gain on their projects. Whilst this is not mandatory at present, many of our clients are choosing to follow the UK example on a voluntary basis as part of their sustainability or environmental policies. MKO is delighted to be able to facilitate the implementation of Biodiversity Net Gain resulting from sustainably designed developments and we are happy to provide further information and details of how the matrix works and the practical implications for developments.