How will the UK’s BNG requirement impact construction and infrastructure?

Biodiversity Ellis Fox Blog

To its credit, the UK has taken a global leadership role in defining policy when it comes to environmental matters. As with any country, the challenge is implementation and how to overcome obstacles that crop up along the way. One of the latest policies, due to be implemented from April 2024, is perhaps the most significant – with a direct impact on the construction and infrastructure sectors.

The Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) requirement which forms part of the 2021 Environment Act, is set at a minimum of 10%. What this means is that there’s an obligation to improve the biodiversity of a site by at least 10% once a construction or infrastructure project has been completed. The BNG requirement starts with small sites, expanding to major infrastructure projects by 2025.

This is a major shift in thinking in development, where the environment was often seen as unavoidable collateral damage. People needed homes and roads, so nature had to give way for that. Sadly, it’s exactly this way of thinking that’s contributed to the current climate crisis we find ourselves in.

Biodiversity loss is seen as a major reason for the extreme weather events being experienced globally. Continued expansive building and development has handicapped nature’s ability to maintain a balance. This is why it’s not enough to build net zero or mitigate for some of the damage to natural habitats destroyed. Instead, the focus now needs to be on regeneration and expanding natural habitats – even in urban environments.

The BNG requirement looks at the state of the site prior to construction and calculates a value of biodiversity units based on a number of different factors. These include: the type and location of the habitat, the size of the area and any unique attributes that add to the quality of the area. i.e. is it a sensitive woodland or wetland area that is a habitat of endangered species? These are some of the considerations to be factored into project planning. Ideally regeneration should take place on the site, but the requirement does allow for other alternatives if this is found to be impossible.

Rather than viewing this requirement as yet another obstacle to overcome, the construction and infrastructure sectors could use it as an opportunity for to be proactive. There are multiple ways to improve the biodiversity of sites, if it becomes a priority.