This week sees the publication by Government of the statutory biodiversity metric. Government has also laid the metric parliamentary act paper. Legally the statutory metric must be used by projects covered by mandatory BNG when that commences. Full details of the tools and guides for measuring the biodiversity value of habitat for biodiversity net gain (BNG) in England can be found on the Defra website.
DEFRA also has a helpful new page, which outlines how to land managers in England can sell biodiversity units as part of Biodiversity Net Gain. Extracts appear below.
Under mandatory BNG legislation, developers must deliver a biodiversity net gain of 10%. If developers cannot achieve BNG on their own sites, they will have to make off-site gains by using off-site biodiversity units. Off-site means outside the red line boundary of the development that has planning permission requiring BNG.
Land managers can sell biodiversity units to developers on land they own, or a landowner’s land, with their permission.
For the purposes of BNG, biodiversity is measured in standardised biodiversity units.
Your land will contain a number of biodiversity units, depending on factors such as its size, quality and location.
In order to sell units, you will need to follow various steps, including using the statutory biodiversity metric to prove the accurate calculation of how many units your habitats could generate – registering your units as a biodiversity gain site on a national public register – and recording on the register the allocation of the off-site gains to a developer, who will use it to achieve their BNG.
Selling in the BNG market is a choice for land managers. It is a potential source of revenue and could fund nature recovery work on your land. You may, for instance, choose to generate and sell biodiversity units alongside farming, creating income from land that may otherwise be unsuitable for food production.
Obligations and options when you sell biodiversity units for off-site gain
Once created, off-site units must be maintained for at least 30 years. The land manager is legally responsible for creating or enhancing habitat, and managing that habitat for at least 30 years to achieve the target condition.
The details of your obligations will depend on which option you choose for selling your units, and what you agree in the legal agreement and habitat management and monitoring plan (HMMP) you make when you legally secure your units.
Options for selling biodiversity units
There are 3 main ways you can sell to developments looking for off-site biodiversity units. Make an informed decision based on what is best for the land owner.
1. Sell biodiversity units independently – you’ll need to take full responsibility for following all the steps in this guidance.
2. Work with one or more partners – you can team up with a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) or other land managers. Depending on how many people you work with, you may be able to create large habitat banks. You would then sell biodiversity units as a group. As a group, you still need to follow all the steps in this guidance.
If you choose this option, you need to make sure you work out who is responsible for which activities, and how you’ll share payments.
3. Use a habitat bank operator. A habitat bank operator leases your land and pays you a fixed fee on a regular basis, for example, monthly or yearly. Typically, the operator will try to find you a buyer and sell to them; legally secure your land; register your gain site and record its allocation, so you would not need to follow these steps yourself.
Either the operator or the land manager may do the habitat creation, enhancement and management, as well as any reporting. You will need to agree all the details of who does what in your contract with the operator.
Make sure you check the contract with the operator to find out:
- Who is responsible for which activities
- When and how you’ll receive payment
- What will happen if the habitat doesn’t reach the target habitat condition
- What will happen if no units are sold within the period of the legal agreement
- What will happen if the habitat bank operator ceases trading
- You can search online to find habitat bank operators.
Combining BNG with other environmental payments
If you’re already receiving payment for creating or enhancing habitat, consider how you can combine BNG with other environmental payments.
When you cannot sell biodiversity units
You cannot sell biodiversity units or combine them with other environmental payments when you’re already required to create or enhance habitat for restocking trees, marine licensing or remediation under the environmental damage regulations.
Selling biodiversity units on protected sites
You may be able to enhance a protected site and sell the units for BNG. You must get consent from Natural England before you start work and renew consent as required, but you must ensure that any protected species licences required are in place before works commence.
Non-intertidal protected sites
You can enhance features that are not specified as one of the designated features of the protected site – but you must not harm a designated feature.
Intertidal protected sites
You can enhance any intertidal habitat on a protected site, including the features for which the site is designated, provided this is acceptable to the consenting organisation.
The Defra web page goes into further detail about how to sell biodiversity units, including:
- Finding out how many units you could sell and the habitat types you could create
- Pricing your units
- Securing the units with a legal agreement
- Finding a buyer for your units, if you do not have one already
- Selling your units
- Registering your gain site
- Recording the allocation of off-site units to a development
- Managing the habitat for at least 30 years