Articles Features & Opinion Mitigation

Ensuring Biodiversity Net Gain delivers for people

In this article, Julia Baker (Balfour Beatty), Joe Bull (Wild Business), Julia P.G. Jones (Bangor University) and Victoria Griffiths (University of Oxford) discuss the effects of Biodiversity Net Gain in relation to people…

Biodiversity Net Gain can affect the benefits that people obtain from nature in both a positive and negative way. It can also affect people differently as illustrated in the following example: after following the Mitigation Hierarchy, a development results in the loss of habitat on-site. It offsets this loss and achieves Biodiversity Net Gain by expanding a local wildlife reserve. People neighbouring the development lose a ‘green space’ that they valued for recreation, but people living near the wildlife reserve benefit from its expansion.

Credit: Balfour Beatty

These social impacts of Biodiversity Net Gain can affect people’s wellbeing. So how people use, depend on and value nature is fundamental to designing and implementing Biodiversity Net Gain.

The problem is that while the biodiversity impacts of Net Gain are well discussed, the social impacts are given far less attention and when social impacts are considered, discussion tends to focus on the positives rather than quantifying negative impacts and demonstrating application of the mitigation hierarchy – especially to first avoid and then minimise negative effects on people from biodiversity loss, before compensating for any residual impacts.

To help with this, we have developed principles for designing and implementing Biodiversity Net Gain in accordance with good practice for people. The principles provide a framework to achieve an outcome whereby:

People perceive the components of their wellbeing affected by biodiversity losses and gains to be at least as good as a result of the development project and any associated Biodiversity Net Gain activities, than if the development had not been implemented.

Credit: Balfour Beatty

What does this mean in practice?
As a starting point, we’ve found these questions important to consider:

Is this about assessing ecosystem services?
Assessing ecosystem services (the benefits that people obtain from nature) is a good start, as it helps to understand what people lose and gain when a development achieves Biodiversity Net Gain. But this is also about understanding who loses and who benefits, and how all of this affects wellbeing.

This is particularly pertinent when offsetting is involved because people losing ecosystem services at the development site are likely to be different from the people gaining ecosystem services at the biodiversity offset site.

What is wellbeing and how do we measure it?
The UK’s construction industry is talking about wellbeing. For example, many companies have published their Health and Wellbeing Strategy, BREEAM has set out how its schemes address health and wellbeing throughout a development lifecycle (2015), and industry guidance for assessing ‘population and human heath’ as part of Environmental Impact Assessments defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease” (Cave et al, 2017).

But what exactly is wellbeing? It’s defined as “positive physical, social and mental state”. In essence, wellbeing is about what you have such as physical and mental health, material aspects (job, house, car etc.), and relationships with family and friends, and how you feel about what you have.

In the context of Biodiversity Net Gain, this particularly concerns people’s values for nature. For example, a public park might be of little biodiversity value but cherished by local residents – being the only green space they can easily access.

Several methods exist to assess and measure wellbeing, and there’s more information in the Social Principles document (see link below). While measuring impacts from Biodiversity Net Gain on people’s wellbeing isn’t currently a mainstream practice, we hope that the Social Principles document provides guidance for us all including industry, governments, NGOs and academia to work towards.

Credit: D Kernott

Do we need to measure wellbeing for each person affected by Biodiversity Net Gain?
Being proportionate is important when measuring people’s wellbeing at the level where significant impacts from losses and gains in biodiversity occur. But this level must genuinely reflect significant impacts otherwise we could miss harmful effects; for example, a wellbeing assessment is undertaken at county level but interest groups within the county are significantly affected by biodiversity loss from a development and, consequently, they are missed when the mitigation hierarchy is applied.

In order to address this, we should first conduct a scoping assessment to identify the groups of people that could be significantly affected, which could be defined by interest group, gender, age or socio-economic factors.

Sometimes people’s values associated with specific biodiversity features cannot be replaced when that feature is lost, what happens in those situations?
The UK’s good practice principles for Biodiversity Net Gain state that losses of irreplaceable habitat cannot be offset to achieve Net Gain. The same goes for people: where people’s values for nature are irreplaceable, it should be made explicit that loss of these values cannot be compensated for to achieve equitable social outcomes from Biodiversity Net Gain. This consideration is especially important for decision-makers and consenting authorities in order to make informed decisions about all environmental and social impacts from a development.

Do people outweigh biodiversity?
This is about achieving Biodiversity Net Gain while making sure that people’s wellbeing associated with biodiversity is at least as good as before the development’s Biodiversity Net Gain.

In practice this means aligning objectives for people and biodiversity as early as possible, for example, ensuring people can enjoy a new nature reserve without compromising the Biodiversity Net Gain outcomes. It’s also about recognising when one set of measures is needed to achieve Biodiversity Net Gain and another set of measures needed to compensate people who have lost biodiversity either at the development or offset site, or both.

What’s next?
The questions above are just a starting point, so please read the full list of principles and accompanying technical notes which are free to download from:

We’re extremely grateful to the many people who gave advice throughout our consultations to develop the principles, which are intended to be tested and refined. We’ll be running events on how these principles apply within the UK to gather your thoughts, views and feedback, please watch this space!

We hope the principles are a first step towards more socially equitable and inclusive Biodiversity Net Gain development projects.

Header image: Balfour Beatty.

About the Authors: Julia P.G. Jones (Professor of conservation science, Bangor University) is a conservation scientist interested in impact evaluation (using quasi-experimental approaches, experimental, and participatory approaches) and the impacts of conservation interventions (including biodiversity offsets, Payments for Ecosystem Services, community forest management and protected) on human wellbeing. She greatly enjoys working with people, methods and approaches from across disciplinary divides. She has a particular interest in Madagascar where she has been working for 18 years.

Dr Julia Baker (Biodiversity Technical Specialist, Balfour Beatty) has worked extensively on biodiversity initiatives for infrastructure development. She is lead author for the UK’s first Good Practice Principles on Biodiversity Net Gain, and an author on the UK’s practical guidance on Biodiversity Net Gain. Julia has designed and implemented Biodiversity Net Gain on a variety of infrastructure projects, including Network Rail Infrastructure Projects and various highways schemes. Julia is a Visiting Researcher at Oxford University, a Technical Advisor for the Institute of Environment and Development and a member of the Valuing Nature Partnership’s Business Interest Group.

Dr Joe W. Bull is currently a Lecturer in Conservation Science at the Durrell Institute for Conservation and Ecology (DICE, University of Kent), as well as a Visiting Researcher at the University of Oxford. Previously, following a number of years in the private sector, he completed a PhD on biodiversity offsets based at Imperial College London (UK) and in Tashkent (Uzbekistan), and a postdoctoral fellowship at Copenhagen University (Denmark) on the topic of No Net Loss. His research focuses on No Net Loss/Net Gain biodiversity interventions, and he is interested more generally in the interaction between biodiversity and economic development. In 2012, Joe co-founded a biodiversity consultancy (Wild Business Ltd), which he continues to direct, and which provides research and advisory services. Joe has worked on projects relating to biodiversity conservation – in either an academic or a commercial capacity – on every inhabited continent, and for over 15 years.

Victoria Griffiths (Post-Doctoral Researcher, Bangor University) is currently a Post-Doctoral researcher at Bangor University. She holds a Masters degree in Integrative Biosciences from the University of Oxford and has recently completed her DPhil at the University of Oxford. Her DPhil research explored how to balance people’s use and non-use values associated with nature with NNL strategies for development projects, using a case study in Uganda. Her current post-doctoral research is a continuation of this work. Prior to her DPhil, Victoria worked as a Senior Environmental Scientist at SRK Consulting in South Africa. She has extensive experience carrying out ESIAs for large scale mining projects in South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo.