The Conservation Hierarchy is a new framework developed by the University of Oxford to help construction projects achieve Biodiversity Net Gain, improving infrastructure while protecting and enhancing the natural environment.
Conservation Hierarchy writes:
The UK is making a significant investment in infrastructure over the next 20 years, with planned improvements in transport, housing, energy, flood defences and communications infrastructure worth billions of pounds. These development projects will boost economic growth and improve quality of life in the UK. Yet the vast scope and scale of these projects requires land and natural resources, which will put pressure on biodiversity.
At the same time, the UK government has a number of international commitments to improve biodiversity, which seem to be at odds with increasing investment in infrastructure.
An integrated approach is required, which can resolve the tension between these priorities: delivering the infrastructure the country needs, securing future economic growth, reconciling competing demands for land use, and enhancing the environment in the long term so that nature and people can thrive.
Recognising this, Balfour Beatty – a leading international infrastructure group – collaborated with leading environmental institutes to develop a set of Good Practice Principles for infrastructure development to achieve Biodiversity Net Gain (2016). The principles are founded on the steps of the conservation hierarchy and define Biodiversity Net Gain as:
“Development that leaves biodiversity in a better state than before. It is also an approach where developers work with local governments, wildlife groups, land owners and other stakeholders in order to support their priorities for nature conservation” – Biodiversity Net Gain Good practice principles for development. CIEEM, CIRIA, IEMA, 2016.
A Road Map to Biodiversity Net Gain
Building on this, Balfour Beatty produced a Roadmap for the UK’s infrastructure development to achieve Biodiversity Net Gain (2018). For contractors, Balfour Beatty outlined the following six steps to secure Biodiversity Net Gain:
- Develop a clear and full understanding of all biodiversity affected by each scheme and by other schemes within the same landscape.
- Follow the Mitigation Hierarchy
- Connect with stakeholders early for their input and ideas on how the project can achieve Net Gain for the features affected, in a way that supports local priorities for biodiversity.
- Think creatively about habitat enhancements throughout and around the site, including hedgerows, woodland meadows, ponds, and species rich grasslands, in a way that boosts biodiversity and delivers multiple benefits.
- Ensure that the enhancements are being properly measured in terms of the biodiversity improvement they will lead to. This means using the most accurate methodology determined by Defra; and taking into account a range of inputs, from geographical information, architectural plans, habitat surveys and local and regional strategies for biodiversity.
- Establish robust mechanisms for maintaining Net Gain over the long-term, with adequate funding and in collaboration with stakeholders.
– A Better Balance: A Roadmap to Biodiversity Net Gain. Balfour Beatty 2018.
The UK’s Good practice principles for Biodiversity Net Gain are:
- Apply the mitigation hierarchy
- Avoid losing biodiversity that cannot be offset by gains elsewhere
- Be inclusive and equitable
- Address risks
- Make a measurable Net Gain contribution
- Achieve the best outcomes for biodiversity
- Be additional
- Create a Net Gain legacy
- Optimise sustainability
- Be transparent
“Apply the mitigation hierarchy: do everything possible to first avoid and then minimise impacts on biodiversity. Only as a last resort, and in agreement with external decision-makers where possible, compensate for losses that cannot be avoided. If compensating for losses within the development footprint is not possible or does not generate the most benefits for nature conservation, then offset biodiversity losses by gains elsewhere.”
Biodiversity Net Gain Good practice principles for development. CIEEM, CIRIA, IEMA, 2016.”