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Biodiversity is defined as, “All the different kinds of life you’ll find in one area – the variety of animals, plants, fungi and even micro-organisms such as bacteria that make up our natural world. Each of these species and organisms work together in ecosystems, like an intricate web, to maintain balance and support life” *

There is extensive legislation and guidance which places responsibilities and duties, both legal and best practice, on all public bodies as well as individuals across the UK and the world.  Worcester, although a City, is a very biodiverse district with many green assets, including its own Green Infrastructure which is included in the planning policies of the South Worcestershire Development Plan. All around the City are the important habitats which support all the species that comprise well balanced biodiversity locally, and one purpose of the planning system in Local Government Districts is to sustain and enhance this environmental quality across the area of its jurisdiction, and in particular make sure it is positively considered in all planning applications. National and other legislation concerning species and the environment must also be properly heeded where development, from large to small, is concerned.

Connectivity and Biodiversity Enhancement

Native species are usually highly mobile and move from place to place, for example, to feed and breed. Biodiversity cannot exist effectively in isolation and needs to be part of a connected system often referred to as Green Infrastructure. This can be of varied quality from important nature reserves to a single hedgerow or road verge, but allows movement of insects (e.g., pollinators) and other wildlife between sites and areas of habitat they may use (for shelter, food, breeding etc) Such a network has been defined for the City and it is always considered if a planning application might affect it, especially if lost or broken. The planning system will also try to enhance biodiversity within the proposals it sees, and this can be especially effective if associated with greenspace connectivity due to its position. Creation of new green connections are especially important and sought after. Biodiversity enhancement does not always have to be because mitigation is required, but also to add to the City’s native habitat and quality of life for residents. It is worth remembering that there are health benefits, for example, to tree and woodland planting related to air quality, as well as leisure activities and even aspects of mental health have been concluded by some studies.

Examples of good biodiversity enhancement in Worcester

One of the best examples in the City would be Plantation Drive and Parsonage Way woodland corridor. It’s now more mature and is both a new native woodland area on what was an open site initially. It’s also very good strategically in connecting together the formerly isolated woodlands of Warndon Wood and Tolladine Wood Local Nature Reserves. The biodiversity there now is very much improved with many native species such as Oak, Ash, Field Maple and Wild Cherry thriving, together with a developing woodland floor and all the species associated with the habitat.

Warndon Corridor
Warndon Villages' green corridor

There are other good examples in Warndon Villages such as the cycleway/footway corridors, often based on existing hedgerows or old field boundaries. Many have been supplemented with native copse and wildflower meadow areas, increasing the biodiversity and value as connecting green corridors is so important in green infrastructure planning and provision.

Another good example involving a single housing development is the former Fire Engine factory site near Gregory’s Bank. Here historically the stream was put in a duct under the factory, entering and exiting a large pipe at each end of the site. The new layout involved exposing the stream in a new shallow valley forming a green corridor through the new housing area. Together with native planting including the new banks of the watercourse the biodiversity enhancement here is excellent and includes the now exposed aquatic habitats.

At a smaller scale there are two examples of single private dwellings using green building technology with surrounding gardens featuring woodland, orchard and native flower meadows where good biodiversity has been achieved. Also of course in a densely urban setting the planting of a single native tree can represent enhancement over existing tarmac or concrete.

Bird boxes

Bird boxes can also provide shelter and breeding opportunities for various species of birds, especially where in towns and cities, the usual nesting habitat is in short supply or tending to disappear due to development. Old trees especially which need maturity to provide the holes required for the nest sites of many species such as Blue and Great Tits, House Sparrow, Robin and others, need many years to mature even if replaced, so a box will offer the site needed to keep breeding numbers in good order.

Sparrow Nest Box

Sparrow Nest Box

Private gardens are often full of food and shelter for birds, so boxes located on or near dwellings can be especially beneficial. Some birds have specialist needs, such as the Swift, which due to modern building techniques and maintenance are losing the cracks and crannies they need here when they return from Africa to breed.

Swift Nest Box
Swift Nest Box (Image courtesy of RSPB)

Bat boxes

Bats too are gradually losing their natural roosting and breeding sites, so specialist boxes for them help a great deal to conserve the many species of bats we have in the City. These “artificial” habitats nevertheless add to the biodiversity in a different way, allowing species earlier opportunities (or to continue) to breed, and especially in towns and cities where natural habitats are inevitably less than in the countryside.

Bat Box
Bat Box

Peregrine Falcon live nest cam

The ultimate example of a specialist bird box is the platform for the Peregrine Falcons, now breeding again successfully in Worcester due in huge part to that particular new enhancement to its territory.

Legislation

  • Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
  • Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act 2000
  • The Natural Environment & Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006 (which imposes a statutory duty on all Local Authorities to conserve biodiversity)
  • Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended)
  • Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (known as the 2010 Habitats Regulations)
  • The Protection of Badgers Act 1982

Planning Policy and Guidance

  • The National Planning Policy Framework
  • Planning for Biodiversity and Geological Conservation: A Guide to Good Practice
  • Government Circular 06/2055.

When are surveys required?

 It is important to know what is on or near a site from a biodiversity assets point of view before proposals are planned out or designed so that they can be fully considered, ideally retained and/or enhanced, as proposals develop over time. At the decision stage of any proposal all these aspects must be known so that a sustainable decision can be reached, they cannot be conditioned for later.

  • Look for features or habitats such as – ponds, lakes, rivers, streams, woodland, hedgerows, veteran and other trees, grassland, gardens (especially mature ones) and allotments. ‘Brownfield sites' can be equally important for biodiversity, many species may use them, and especially so when adjacent to or linked to another semi-natural habitat. This list is by no means exhaustive.
  • Bat surveys are usually required when a development includes demolition and significant modifications or conversions, especially of roofs and roof voids.
  • Check with Worcestershire Biological Record Centre for existing records of protected species either on the site or nearby as many species are highly mobile.
  • Check with a Planning Officer / Natural Heritage Officer / Biodiversity Advisor
  • Note that surveys must be submitted with the planning application (not added as a condition) and must contain enough information to allow a full assessment of the potential impact of the planning proposal on protected species.
  • All surveys must be up to date (i.e., normally no more than 12 months old) and carried out by a suitably qualified ecologist.
  • Timing is very important, and all surveys must be carried out at the appropriate time of year/day (this may be dependent on hibernation/activity patterns) and under the right conditions (e.g., temperature, visibility and weather)
  • Do include relevant mitigation and enhancement measures – also to be shown clearly as part of the design of the planning submission where appropriate.

What constitutes a survey

Surveys can be at different levels depending upon what is appropriate. They may be species-specific if that is the only issue e.g., a bat assessment or full survey depending on requirements. Or they may be site specific such as a Preliminary Ecological Assessment (PEA), or a Full Ecological Survey (Habitat and Species Survey) again depending on requirements. Often a PEA may conclude the need for a full survey if further detail is required, or a further seasonal survey if that is an issue. Speak to your ecologist about what is the most appropriate requirement to assist/be needed for the planning process.

About the Habitat Regulations

If it looks like a protected species or habitat might be affected, especially a EPS (a species of European importance), following an appropriate assessment/survey.

The scheme must demonstrate consideration and compliance with the three derogation tests, where appropriate as below.

The three derogation tests as set out in Regulation 53 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 are:

  • Is the development needed for: 
    • Public health and safety?
    • Other imperative reasons of overriding public interest incl. those of a social or economic nature?
    • Preventing serious damage to property?
  • Are there any satisfactory alternatives (resulting in no or at least less risk of harm)?
  • Is there adequate compensation provided to maintain the favourable conservation status of the population of the species?

Note that the European Protected Species regime applies whether related to a planning application or not. All the legislation noted above is “stand alone” legislation which applies outside of the planning system too (except of course the Planning Act, which is concerned directly with planning)

What is biodiversity net gain?

Biodiversity net gain (BNG) is an approach to development, and/or land management, that aims to leave the natural environment in a measurably better state than it was beforehand.

The word ‘biodiversity’ comes from the term ‘biological diversity’. It refers to the variety of all living organisms, including animals, insects, plants, bacteria and fungi. More information on biodiversity and its importance can be found on the Royal Society's website .  A habitat is an important component of biodiversity and is the area and resources used by a living organism or assemblage of animals and plants to live, survive and thrive.

Biodiversity net gain delivers measurable improvements for biodiversity by creating or enhancing habitats in association with development. Biodiversity net gain can be achieved on-site, off-site or through a combination of on-site and off-site measures.

For a simple overview, please view Natural England's Introduction to Biodiversity Net Gain on YouTube.

Natural England have also produced a Biodiversity Net Gain brochure, which provides an overview of BNG and its benefits and how it applies to the planning system in broad terms. 

The British Standards Institute have produced the Little Book of Biodiversity Net Gain which is a very useful overview. You can also take a look at a recording and slides from the Natural England BNG update from April 2023.

Under the Environment Act 2021, all planning permissions granted in England (with a few exemptions) for major sites will have to deliver at least 10% biodiversity net gain from 15th January 2024. BNG will be required for smaller sites from April 2024. BNG will need to be measured using Defra’s biodiversity metric and habitats will need to be secured for at least 30 years. This sits alongside other wildlife conservation issues and initiatives;

  • a strengthened legal duty for public bodies to conserve and enhance biodiversity (this has always existed within the NERC Act Sec 41)
  • new biodiversity reporting requirements for local authorities, and
  • mandatory spatial strategies for nature: Local Nature Recovery Strategies or ‘LNRS’ being carried out by Worcesteshire County Council with local districts and stakeholders including the City Council as partners.

Further information about mandatory BNG and the Environment Act is available on the Local Government Association Biodiversity net gain now and in the future webpage resources.

Why is biodiversity net gain important?

The most recent UK State of Nature report, published in 2019, suggests there has been a 13% decline in the average abundance of wildlife in the UK since the 1970s. This is despite legislation and policy to protect biodiversity and wildlife. Equally the local Worcestershire State of Nature Report (part of the LNRS referred to above) recently published illustrates the position for our County

Although certain sites and species are protected, there are limited mechanisms to value, maintain, enhance and create wildlife habitats beyond protected sites. As a result, most habitats continue to be lost to development, reducing nature's ability to connect and thrive. 

BNG is additional to existing habitat and species protections, all of which continue as normal. BNG aims to create new habitat as well as enhance existing habitats.

Nature is important in its own right, but it is also essential for the processes that support all life on Earth, including humans. The natural environment provides benefits to us all through 'ecosystem services' and contributes greatly to our quality of life both directly and indirectly. Without biodiversity and functioning ecosystems planet earth would be uninhabitable.

For local authorities, BNG links to a range of agendas including:

  • addressing the climate emergency, which the City Council is already committed to do.
  • place-making and sustainable design
  • green infrastructure, multifunctional but driven by environmental principles and goals
  • access to greenspace and nature, broad environmental education with respect to habitat, species and local green assets
  • mental and physical health and wellbeing
  • flood resilience including SUDS for biodiversity
  • improving air quality and increasing tree cover to that effect

Why do biodiversity net gain now?

The Environment Act 2021 makes biodiversity net gain mandatory for major sites and some exemptions from 15th January 2024 and for small sites from April 2024.

BNG is already operated through national planning policy in England and Wales, and can be achieved on site, off site, or through a combination of on-site and off-site measures. You can find more information about this on the LGA Biodiversity net gain now and in the future page.

All applicants for planning approval should understand the BNG requirements they may have and present them with the application documentation when necessary, or clearly state why they think that in their particular case it does/or does not apply and why. This will be needed to validate an application and the Council will not decide for you, but will analyse the application once validly presented.

Please remember that BNG in no way replaces or affects other policies or requirements for, for example landscaping, high quality of sustainable design, green infrastructure, place making, wildlife conservation, ecological appraisal and other such existing policies and guidance, which continue as before.

Further information

Chris Dobbs CMLI - Landscape and Biodiversity Advisor

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
01905722544

other links that may be useful to you:-

 

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