South Downs National Park announces green finance scheme

The fight against biodiversity loss took a step forward today as the South Downs National Park announced a new nature recovery scheme for businesses of all sizes.

The South Downs becomes the first National Park in the UK to open up a formal scheme for voluntary biodiversity gain to the private sector – meaning that firms of any size across England can invest in high-ethic, effective nature recovery.

The announcement was made as delegates from across the sector gathered at the National Park’s headquarters for a summit on ways to accelerate nature recovery through green finance.

The Voluntary Biodiversity Credits scheme is the latest among a growing package of green finance measures being offered by the South Downs National Park Authority.

Over 500 hectares – equivalent to more than 800 football pitches – of land on farms and country estates across Hampshire and Sussex have already been earmarked for biodiversity restoration through future green finance investment.

Announcing the new green finance scheme at the summit, Tim Slaney, Chief Executive (Interim) at the South Downs National Park, said, “This is a first for UK National Parks and underlines our commitment to tackling the biodiversity crisis through innovation.

“We have a real opportunity in the UK to turn the tide on nature depletion, as well as tackle the climate crisis through nature-based solutions, but we’ve got to act quickly and decisively. With National Parks covering almost 10 per cent of England’s land mass, places like the South Downs National Park can, and should be, the driving force behind nature recovery. In the UK, 41 per cent of species have declined in abundance over the past 40 years, so we’re at a pivotal moment.

“There is now a real appetite across the corporate sector to demonstrate first-class environmental integrity, meet national targets and invest in the planet for future generations and that’s exactly what Voluntary Biodiversity Credits can deliver. National Parks have to seize this moment and capitalise on this tremendous opportunity to enable nature to bounce back.”

Slaney added, “This growing desire to invest in the environment dovetails with an ever-expanding need in the land and farming sector to diversify and find new revenue streams. Both sectors can work harmoniously together and National Parks can be the facilitator.

“Our aim is to work with landowners to support them in their aspirations to deliver high-quality, nature-friendly food production on their best farming land and devote their more marginal land to nature where the costs associated with it are prohibitive.

“This is just the start of this journey and we’re excited about what can be achieved for nature in the next few years.”

Three years ago the National Park Authority launched its ReNature campaign to create 13,000 hectares – over three times the size of Portsmouth – of brand-new habitat to help nature thrive and ensure 33 per cent of the National Park is managed for nature by 2030, while the remaining 67 per cent is nature-friendly.

The Voluntary Biodiversity Credits scheme is the latest step in that journey and is being launched in partnership with Earthly, a leading UK NatureTech company whose team of experts seek to drive investment in high-integrity nature projects around the world.

A bespoke Section 106 legal agreement will secure land use change – from agriculture to nature recovery – through an agreement between the landowner and the National Park Authority as Local Planning Authority (LPA). This secures land for ReNature over the long-term and ensures the landowner can sell nature recovery credits to businesses, and developers without additional workload or cost.

Once secured, Earthly will take on the crucial role of authorisor, ensuring avoidance of green washing, double counting or duplications in sales, while the SDNPA will be responsible for compliance monitoring.

The voluntary scheme builds on the expanding role of the National Park Authority following the introduction of mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) earlier this year. BNG involves creating or improving habitats so that development has a measurably positive impact (‘net gain’) on biodiversity, compared to what was there before development.

A number of industry-leading projects are being progressed around compliance BNG, as well as offsetting and habitat creation, through green finance including:

  • The National Park Authority is working with other Local Planning Authorities to ensure they are ready for Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG)
  • The National Park is working with local government partners to co-ordinate approaches to BNG. The goal is to build an understanding and agreement with all the 15 councils that share the National Park boundary to demonstrate how a joined-up approach to nature recovery can also support thriving prosperous communities
  • The National Park Authority secured successful nutrient mitigation schemes through s106 legal agreements on large estates at Warnford Park, near Winchester, and Droke Farm, near Chichester, to deliver nitrate offsetting
  • The National Park Authority and Palladium are working together to encourage woodland creation and create woodland carbon
  • To help developers, landowners and planning agents, the National Park has produced a BNG Technical Advice Note to provide interim guidance on how BNG can be achieved in the South Downs National Park

Lorenzo Curci, Co-founder of Earthly, said, “We are thrilled to announce the launch of this pioneering biodiversity program, especially considering the critical timing. With the UK already ranking among the most nature-depleted regions globally, initiatives like this are paramount. As we strive to meet the ambitious 2030 goals set by the government, it’s imperative that our efforts are both quantifiable and transparent, guided by the latest scientific advancements.”

Find out more about Voluntary Biodiversity Credits and other green finance initiatives in the South Downs National Park


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