What BNG means to Belmont?

Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) are words that you may have already heard or will hear more regularly this year. BNG is a mechanism aiming to preserve and restore our biodiversity through the planning system. It will be enshrined in law by the end of the year, with some local planning authorities already voluntarily adopting it. If you’re building anything requiring planning permission, from an extension to a housing estate it will apply to you. 

So, why is BNG important?

We are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis, and we are losing our nature at an unprecedented rate, with the loss of species often directly related to the loss of habitat. For example, “in the UK we have already lost 97% of our wildflower meadows and over 90% of our wetlands” (Guardian).

Developments that are environmentally unregulated have real potential to erode or destroy our natural world and BNG is an attempt to change this. Development, subject to all the usual constraints and considerations will continue to happen, and we believe that making it a force for environmental benefit can only be a good thing. Delivered well, BNG has the potential to preserve and enhance the nature of a particular site or region, and ultimately on a national scale. 

How will it work?

All proposed new sites will be required to assess the biodiversity that would be lost as a result of the development. The almost endless variability of the natural world makes biodiversity hard to calculate in a consistent and uniform way across multiple regions. So, habitats are assessed using a DEFRA metric and a score is awarded for their wildlife value, scarcity, and difficulty to establish. To achieve planning permission, habitats of the same quality must be created to offset the loss, plus an extra ten per cent gain. The offsetting habitat can be delivered by the developer onsite or if that’s not possible, offsite and that’s where we come in. 

So, why us?

Here at Belmont, we are passionate about our natural world, and our mission to restore and reconnect people to nature runs through everything that we do. Our Watercress rewilding project in North Somerset is a great example of this and BNG is just one of the elements that make this project so exciting. 

By rewilding and rewetting a once conventionally farmed landscape, we are delivering a number of vitally important environmental and community benefits as a result of this project including:  

  • Restoring biodiversity and abundance within touching distance of Bristol 
  • Reducing flood risk locally 
  • Improving air, soil and water quality 
  • Creating a local community hub for over 100 volunteers 
  • Creating opportunities for people to access and connect with nature via walks, talks, and a network of public rights of way
  • Delivering a nature-based education programme and providing free access to green space 

A project like our Watercress rewilding site comes from not only a long-lived passion and commitment to the natural world but is overseen by experts in ecology, conservation, and nature education. This is critical in ensuring that the BNG habitats that have been created remain viable and productive over the whole thirty-year term, securing the integrity of the offset.  

Why offset offsite?

Whilst habitats can be created to deliver BNG within the development site itself, we believe there are some restrictions with that. Many communities and individual species require a certain scale to be viable. The presence of multiple habitats in one area, an abundance of prey and food, and a community large enough to breed are all important factors for this viability. Small-scale habitat creation across disparate developments may well be less environmentally productive than larger concentrated sites like ours at Watercress Farm. 

As our existing rewilding site has already been created by experts for habitat creation, Belmont is able to offer a secure and risk-free offset. Our units are registered and ready to buy covering Bristol, North Somerset, BANES and South Gloucestershire. We truly believe that if you are going to offset and add a net gain to biodiversity, then this should be the best offset possible, managed by experts for the whole 30-year term which is something that we can do and are passionate about. 

Gil Martin, Estate Manager

Jan 2023