This project aims to provide a better understanding of the strategies, measures and techniques needed to deliver positive environmental outcomes.
The natural environment is crucial to our wellbeing and economic prosperity. It provides multiple goods and services that benefit people – such as clean air and water, food, and space for recreation. However, the flow of these goods and services is threatened by non-sustainable land use and development decisions that contribute to environmental degradation.
To counteract the ongoing loss of ecosystems, the UK Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan commits to pursuing an Environmental Net Gain approach when making decisions around planning developments. Put simply, this suggests that environmental damage from land use or development should be compensated for by making investments in conservation elsewhere, and these investments should deliver environmental benefits which outweigh the environmental costs – creating a ‘net gain’.
Biodiversity Net Gain
While the 25 Year Environment plan may reference Environmental Net Gain (ENG), the concept of Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) was incorporated into the Environment Bill, which currently sits with Parliament. BNG requires developments to deliver at least a 10% improvement in the number of plant or animal species conserved over those lost. Adopted as part of the Town and Country Planning regime, it covers applications from major housing developments to transport or commercial developments.
Though a step in the right direction, the concept of BNG is far less ambitious than the wider, more robust target of ENG, and some requirements of delivering BNG restrict its potential to do good.
Finding a solution
There is currently a national interest in understanding how ENG could be delivered most effectively. Local Councils and other organisations (such as wildlife trusts) and many landowners and developers have expressed a need to better understand the potential of delivering successful ENG schemes.
The team will investigate current ENG and BNG requirements, and look for opportunities to align the schemes to maximise benefits. They will unpick the role of size, location, ecological characteristics and social values derived from the ‘measures’ of biodiversity or habitat for a range of environmental net gain scenarios. This information can then be used by stakeholders to inform decision-making and strategies around delivering Environmental Net Gain going forward.
This project has the opportunity to link up with the aims and objectives of a number of other SWEEP projects and partners. There is also a number of organisations already working collaboratively with the team to help shape and deliver the programme of work.
The programme of work
Working with partners, the team will deliver on three overarching aims:
- Create a review of the existing initiatives and proposals regarding the design and implementation of Environmental Net Gain (ENG) in the UK, identifying any knowledge gaps and making suggestions for improvements.
- Work to address any knowledge gaps by investigating the social preferences around ENG schemes – looking at trade-offs between different options, and potential barriers to implementing the schemes.
- Contribute to policies, strategies and debate around the practical implementation of ENG nationally.
This work will take place concurrently, and run up until October 2021.
Activity 1 - Identify and review existing knowledge gaps and implementation issues
Activity 2 - Design and implementation of a survey to better understand social preference trade-offs and benefits
Michela is a postdoctoral researcher in environmental economics. She joined the team at the Land, Environment, Economics and Policy Institute (LEEP) at the University of Exeter in January 2018, after working as a postdoctoral researcher in environmental economics at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen. Michela’s research is focused on the economic valuation of the benefits that people obtain from the environment. Working across several SWEEP projects, Michela will use economic valuation to inform the development of natural capital accounts in the South West. She will also investigate ways of improving the design of payment for ecosystem services for farmers such that society gets more benefits from a better managed environment.
Ian is Professor of Environmental Economics at the University of Exeter Business School. As the SWEEP Director, Ian is responsible for ensuring that the Partnership delivers major real-world improvements in the economy, communities and natural environment of the region. This is achieved through the variety of projects which SWEEP undertakes.
Diana is the Impact Evaluation Manager for SWEEP. Her role is to ensure that the impact of SWEEP is well evidenced and far-reaching – both for individual projects and accumulatively across SWEEP’s portfolio of projects. She has previously worked in consultancy and as an academic; mainly providing advice on fisheries management issues and undertaking secondments to government. When not SWEEP-ing, Diana works as an artist and supports local community projects.