Opportunities for Landowners
Biodiversity Net Gain offers opportunities to landowners but there are many issues to be considered.
WHAT IS BIODIVERSITY NET GAIN?
The Environment Act 2021 sets clear statutory targets for the recovery of the natural world in four priority areas: air quality, biodiversity, water and waste, and includes important new targets to reverse the decline in species abundance by the end of 2030. When it comes into force, it will require a 10% net gain in biodiversity (BNG) after development, compared to the baseline for all future development sites in England and Wales.
Developers should aim to achieve 10% BNG onsite. However, where developers are unable to achieve all or part of the requisite BNG onsite for their proposed development, they can achieve it offsite. by negotiating a private offsetting arrangement with a third party landowner, or by purchasing biodiversity credits from the government.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR LANDOWNERS
Landowners interested in providing land for BNG should:
- assess the economic productivity of their land – low productivity land lends itself to habitat creation and therefore will be attractive to developers for offsite BNG and to the government as land suitable for procuring biodiversity credits;
- measure their land’s baseline biodiversity, especially that of any marginal land – if it is low, such land will be more attractive both for development – as the baseline biodiversity unit value will be lower and therefore the number of biodiversity units which a developer will have to procure to meet their 10% BNG will be lower – and would be suitable for biodiversity enhancement.
ISSUES FOR LANDOWNERS TO CONSIDER
Landowners considering putting their land forward for biodiversity credits should:
- note that the credits will be secured by conservation covenants. Therefore, they will bind the land for the full period the covenant is in force (which will be at least 30 years or longer depending on the nature of the development). During the period in which the covenant is in force, the land cannot be used for any other purpose. This may have an impact on its value, especially if the land may be ear-marked in the local planning authority’s local plan as land suitable for development. Moreover, seeing as the direction of government policy is firmly moving in the direction of biodiversity enhancement, it is arguable that it may not be possible to use land that has been set aside for BNG for anything else, even once a binding it have expired;
- be aware of tax implications – taking land out of agricultural production can mean the loss of inheritance tax reliefs; and
- be aware that Natural England is also developing a net gain sites register, which will include information about any site that is being used to deliver BNG. This register will be open to the public. Therefore, landowners and farmers should make sure they are comfortable that any information contained within it in respect of their land will be available to the public.