Natural England publishes ‘lessons’ from biodiversity credit pilot projects

England’s nature regulator has published ‘land management lessons’ from its biodiversity credit pilots across the country on a range of land types.

The requirement for developers to deliver a minimum 10% biodiversity net gain (BNG) on most new developments is set to become mandatory in January 2024.

In advance of this deadline, Natural England has published five documents outlining lessons learnt from its biodiversity credit pilots.

Money from the sale of statutory biodiversity credits are set to be invested in habitat delivery in England, and Natural England has said that alongside DEFRA, the agency is “investigating the potential projects in which the secretary of state may choose to invest in future”.

The pilots that Natural England has published information on span a range of land types, from very large estates to smaller land parcels, to areas sitting within national parks and those largely featuring agricultural land.

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Two of the large pilots include Escrick Park, which is currently piloting 230 hectares of its 3,000 hectare (ha) estate. The estate has a national nature reserve (NNR) on it, and the Natural England briefing states that “the presence of an NNR is an excellent way to focus on how to connect parts of the landscape that are already rich in biodiversity”. 

Beilby Forbes Adam, the Escrick Park project lead, said: “It is best to start by mapping the site constraints and then work to align these with the big overarching vision [...] We did it the other way around, which meant having to retrospectively adjust and dial down our ambition to fit our land constraints. Mapping the constraints means you have the outlines of your plan which can then be filled with colour and ambition from the strategic vision.”

The second large estate pilot is Wendling Beck, one of Natural England’s Nature Recovery Projects, which it says was created with the intention of kick-starting a nation-wide Nature Recovery Network. The aim of the project is to take “almost 800 ha of grade three arable land and create a mosaic of species-rich meadows, lowland heath, wetlands, woodlands, and restored chalk streams. This will sit alongside 50 ha of retained regenerative blackcurrant farming.”

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The third pilot is from the Iford Biodiversity Project - a farm in the South Downs National Park which has been managed by the same family for over 100 years.

The ‘lessons learnt’ document details how the project managed the “unusual” situation where the local planning authority is the South Downs National Park, meaning the project had to manage different objectives in comparison to most local planning authorities. 

The fourth pilot details what was learnt from the Spains Hall estate in Essex, where BNG was achieved on farmland with no protected designations on it. ” 

The fifth pilot concerns delivering BNG on smaller parcels of land, detailing what project leads have reported back from the Sunart Fields project in Derbyshire.

On 13 December, Natural England's net gain lead will talk at a live ENDS Report webinar examining what environmental professionals need to know as the clock counts down to biodiversity net gain becoming mandatory in England next year. Find out more and sign up here