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UK government may lack data to monitor biodiversity net gain policy, warns watchdog

The biodiversity net gain rules compel housing developers in England to leave sites with better biodiversity than when they commenced operations © Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
The biodiversity net gain rules compel housing developers in England to leave sites with better biodiversity than when they commenced operations © Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Since February, housing developers in England have been required to improve the biodiversity of their sites

The UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs may not have the data it needs to assess the effectiveness of its biodiversity net gain policy, the UK’s independent public spending watchdog has cautioned.

The National Audit Office published a report on May 17 analysing whether Defra and Natural England, the government’s advisory body for England’s natural environment, is making good progress on implementing new rules on biodiversity net gain.

Since February 12, housing developers in England have been required to improve the biodiversity net gain of their sites by 10 per cent. The BNG rules compel developers to leave sites with better biodiversity than when they commenced operations, as measured in terms of biodiversity “units” that consider the size of a habitat, its ecological importance and its condition. BNG units can be bought from landowners via intermediaries in the private sector or from the government.

Local authorities are managing the implementation of BNG, but experts warned Sustainable Views in February that the parlous state of council finances could undermine the effectiveness of the new rules

The NAO’s report notes “there is doubt about whether local authorities will be able to discharge these duties effectively”.

“It is not clear whether Defra will have sufficiently granular monitoring data to assess policy performance,” it continues. “Without these, Defra will not have assurance that its statutory BNG policy is delivering biodiversity outcomes and value for money for taxpayers”. 

The report adds that Defra does not know yet whether the private market for biodiversity units can satisfy demand, nor does it have a mechanism in place to spend the income it will generate from selling statutory credits to improve biodiversity.

A Defra spokesperson says: “We have carefully considered the recommendations of the report and they will inform our approach as we continue to work with developers, land managers and local authorities to ensure the smooth implementation of biodiversity net gain”.

You can find the full report here.

A service from the Financial Times