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How large organisations can lead the way in delivering a biodiversity net gain

There is a growing shift within planning policy at both a national and local level that encourages landowners and organisations to be more proactive when it comes to wildlife. For example in March 2019, the government mandated that all new developments must deliver an overall increase in biodiversity net gain with developers needing to show that local wildlife will have even greater access to suitable habitat post development. This move has led some large land owning organisations to consider their current overall impact on biodiversity and to look for opportunities within their estate to establish ecological networks.

Take UK Power Networks, for example, the country’s biggest electricity distributor, making sure the lights stay on for more than eight million homes and businesses across London, the South East and the East of England. As an organisation looking to be ever more environmentally sustainable, the company intends to use its significant landholdings to play its part in supporting biodiversity improvements. Over the next two years, as part of the company’s Green Action Plan, UK Power Networks is working closely with ADAS’ ecology team to actively increase biodiversity within their infrastructure and primary electrical substation sites by 10–30%.

Although UK Power Networks land holdings are mainly in the form of electricity substations that supply electricity to the surrounding regions, each substation sits on land that could potentially contribute to wildlife initiatives on a local, regional, and even a national scale. The land around these substations is relatively free from human access which, especially in high population density areas, may be scarce in the surrounding landscape.

As the project begins, UK Power Networks have sought the advice of conservation organisations across London and the East and South East of England so the most ecological value can be gained from this project, including the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and local Wildlife Trusts in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Kent, Hertfordshire and Middlesex, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, London, Sussex and Surrey.

Natural England, the government’s advisor for the natural environment, also recognises the need for organisations of this scale to assume responsibility for promoting biodiversity across the United Kingdom. It has said that the UK Power Networks’ Biodiversity Net Gain Project has great potential to demonstrate how Net Gain can be incorporated into the fabric of a major organisation as a means of protecting and enhancing the natural world.

As part of the two year process, over 1000 UK Power Networks sites are to be evaluated by ADAS using existing data, aerial imagery and ground truthing to better understand their current biodiversity level. A biodiversity value will then be assigned to each to identify the top 100 sites that have the most potential to improve and feed into wider landscape initiatives (Biodiversity Action Plans).

As each site will be its own distinctive habitat benefiting different species in a given location, a local rather than a ‘one-size-fits all’ approach will be taken. Once more is known about each site, work will begin on putting site specific action plans in place. When the proposed habitat enhancements are then more established, the 100 sites can be re-assessed to show the overall increased biodiversity value. This value can be costed up to show which sites provided the best biodiversity net gain. Staff are also being encouraged to promote and look for ways to encourage biodiversity on sites they manage.

It is hoped that once the initial two year project is complete, the progress being made will continue to grow as more opportunities are found as the sites develop. And it offers other businesses the chance to see how they can meet their responsibilities to deliver an overall increase in biodiversity net gain.

Header image: ADAS Associate Director James Simpson discussing the importance of Net Gain Biodiversity as part of UK Power Network’s Green Action Plan with UK Power Network staff and representatives from Natural England, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Wildlife Trusts from across London, the South East and East of England. Credit: ADAS.

About the Author: James Simpson is an Associate Director at ADAS (an RSK company) managing a team of ecologists. With a passion for wildlife, he enjoys working alongside developers and organisations to help them identify the value and opportunities in considering ecology early in their planning process.

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