Measuring Biodiversity Value- a ‘Net Gain’ for humanity

11 Jun 24

Biodiversity is key in enriching new developments in our towns and cities. With the adoption of NPF4 in February 2023, it is no surprise that the Scottish Government placed a greater emphasis on delivering biodiversity enhancement as part of its commitment to tackle the climate emergency.

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Biodiversity is vital for a healthy and functional planet. It provides us with the food we eat, the microorganisms that enrich our soil where we grow our crops, the pollinators who give us our supply of fruits and nuts.

Biodiversity is key in enriching new developments in our towns and cities. With the adoption of NPF4 in February 2023, it is no surprise that the Scottish Government placed a greater emphasis on delivering biodiversity enhancement as part of its commitment to tackle the climate emergency. There is an increased focus in NPF4 to support development that secures positive effects for biodiversity. Through Policy 3 (Biodiversity), NPF4 requires development to protect, preserve and enhance biodiversity, deliver positive effects from development and strengthen nature networks.

Unlike England, Scotland has not followed the model of imposing a legal requirement to deliver biodiversity net gain. Rather, NPF4 sets out a framework for the ‘enhancement’ of biodiversity rather than ‘net gain’, with the absence of a metric-based system in Scotland. In September 2023, the latest publication from the Scottish Government reviewed potential approaches to measuring biodiversity in Scotland but at the time of writing, there is still no mandated metric to measure biodiversity enhancement.

The merits of having a nationally mandated metric centre around ensuring consistency in measuring and delivering biodiversity. However, a nationally mandated approach restricts the discretion of Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) that oversee vastly different landscapes. For instance, should the almost entirely urban City of London (with 14% green space) be expected to achieve the same percentage of biodiversity delivery as leafy Oxfordshire (with 67% green space)? The Scottish method allows LPAs to develop bespoke approaches to biodiversity enhancement based on local priorities and needs. Similarly to England, the mitigation hierarchy remains paramount, though there are ongoing concerns about the capacity and skillsets of LPAs to administer the new regime effectively. The relative merits of each system are largely untested on a global scale; the success of each will be revealed through the outcomes achieved by developers and LPAs in the coming years.

Proposals are currently expected to demonstrate biodiversity enhancement based on Nature Scot Biodiversity Guidance (February 2024) and established ‘best practice’ which varies across the preferred approaches of the different Local Planning Authorities (LPAs), for example, one Scottish LPA who are requesting a demonstration of 10% net gain despite ‘net gain‘ not explicitly requested by NPF4.

Iceni can provide bespoke advice in collaboration with project ecologists to increase your chances of planning success, including:

  • Helping establish what is ‘best practice’ without formal Scottish Government metrics and different approaches between LPAs.
  • Meeting LPAs expectations for biodiversity enhancements in applications without detailed landscaping plans e.g. applications for planning permission in principle and strategic site promotions.
  • Understanding the value of ‘naturalised’ urban brownfield sites left abandoned and anticipating the level of enhancement expected.
  • Advising on site selection when considering a site’s biodiversity value upfront.
Helen Turnbull Senior Planner,Planning