How Developers Should Pre-Plan to Succeed in a Biodiversity Net Gain Landscape Chris Walsh 19 March 2024

How Developers Should Pre-Plan to Succeed in a Biodiversity Net Gain Landscape

The arrival of biodiversity net gain (BNG) in February 2024 heralds a sea change in wildlife conservation in England. For the first time, development (long considered one of the main causes of biodiversity loss) will become a key driver of nature recovery, whether it wants to be or not. Biodiversity net gain is set to become big business; developments and organisations that are unable to deliver and manage their biodiversity gains within their own sites will need to rely on a (still developing) national network of biodiversity offsets, habitat banks, or (if all else fails) the eye-wateringly expensive Statutory Credits sold by Natural England.

More than ever, pre-planning for ecology and habitat retention, enhancement, and creation is key to ensuring developments remain viable and organisations utilise their land resources to their best advantage.

Here, Chris Walsh, our natural capital solutions lead, shares our top three tips for remaining green while turning green:


  • Prioritise choosing sites with lower biodiversity baseline values to minimise the impact on existing habitats.
  • Plan your development to retain the most valuable habitats and incorporate them into the design scheme. Healthy habitats create beautiful pre-made features that provide a wealth of free ecosystem services (flood alleviation, urban cooling, and air pollution reduction). If you remove high-value habitats, be prepared to pay a high price to recreate them elsewhere.
  • Avoid locations near sensitive designated sites, irreplaceable habitats (ancient woodland, etc.), local wildlife sites, or priority habitats. It’s not just biodiversity loss that can result in planning refusal; all these habitats are well protected in the planning system and are themselves homes to a range of protected and priority species that are easily harmed or disturbed


  • You need to provide a 10% gain on the value of all habitats within your red line prior to development (your biodiversity baseline). In many cases, you could significantly reduce biodiversity impacts (and so development costs) by reducing your redline to the minimum area you need. For example, does that woodland or wetland need to be part of your development?
  • Alternatively, it’s much easier and cheaper to deliver biodiversity enhancements to habitats within your redline boundary (especially if these habitats are already established and retained as part of the development). Also, as onsite habitat biodiversity gains don’t need to be added to Natural England’s biodiversity gains register or secured by Conservation Covenants, this reduces the amount of pre-commencement paperwork and delays. So, if you know that your development will result in a big net loss and you have a high-distinctiveness habitat that is in poor condition next to your development site, it may be a good idea to add it to your red line to allow you to easily deliver your gains by managing and enhancing it.


  • Many organisations will have land parcels in their portfolio that are unproductive (agriculturally) or hard to develop (in greenbelt or isolated rural areas). Why not use some of this land to deliver your own biodiversity offsets? This way, you’re both guaranteed to have an offset to deliver your BNG (greatly reducing your risks) while significantly reducing your costs. 
  • If you have a large offsite area in your portfolio (or a small area that could deliver high-quality habitat), it could facilitate several small developments or even sell additional biodiversity units to other developers in the area, which could be enough to cover all management costs.
  • Get a baseline ecological survey for all your landholdings and work out the management requirements and costs to enhance their habitats, and then start playing mix and match.

With a UK-wide cohort of BNG experts and an industry-leading nature-based solutions team, our in-house experts bring a diverse range of experience and can provide specialist knowledge in biodiversity and other environmental metrics. We can support you in creating and implementing a strategy for BNG to meet or exceed mandatory requirements, spanning baseline assessments and metric calculations, to high-quality habitat design and creation that complements your project and supports local and national nature recovery targets.