What biodiversity net gain means for builders and developers

We spoke to Maisie McKenzie, Biodiversity Manager at Wienerberger UK, about the company’s biodiversity strategy and the positive change that she hopes it will galvanise for the wider construction industry.

As of January 2024, the statutory requirement for a 10% biodiversity net gain for all new developments means that builders, developers and the whole supply chain will need to consider nature and biodiversity from the outset of every project.

What is biodiversity net gain and why is it so important?

The built environment sector is responsible for around 30% of biodiversity loss globally. Biodiversity underpins our entire ecosystem which provides everything that we need to survive. In the UK, wildlife is in a state of decline with 41% of species decreasing in numbers since 1970. Improving the biodiversity of our developments to regenerate habitat and leave the environment in a better state than it was in before building work commenced is no longer an option but a legal requirement.

Biodiversity net gain is a way of delivering measurable improvements to the environment through habitat creation and enhancement that helps nature recover. It is measured using a calculation based on Natural England Metric 3.0, which replaced DEFRA’s Biodiversity Metric. This follows a series of ongoing changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which has raised the bar for biodiversity standards over the last ten years.

What does this mean for builders, developers and suppliers?

Without an adequate biodiversity plan, a development won’t receive planning permission which can incur significant financial costs and time delays in having to go back to the drawing board.

Getting it right from the start relies on making informed, data-driven decisions to measure the existing biodiversity on a site and developing a realistic plan to increase it over the course of a construction project and beyond. This involves identifying constraints and understanding how to work around them. A robust biodiversity plan will need to outline how the 10% gain will be managed and maintained for a minimum of 30 years after development. This will then be secured via a planning condition.

Different habitats require different solutions to offset biodiversity loss during development. For example, habitats of high ecological value such as wetlands or woodland can require a vast amount of work to replace and expand. Sites in built-up areas with little room to manoeuvre may present a considerable challenge with limited options.

However, there are some core measures which can be applied to every site that can help achieve the required biodiversity gain. Most importantly, such measures no longer need to be costly or complex. Builders and specifiers now have access to a wide range of solutions to help achieve the necessary ecological enhancements and ensure biodiversity net gain.

Wienerberger partnership with Booth Ventures to ensure none of the extracted material from Mouselow Quarry is wasted.

What is Wienerberger doing to embed biodiversity across its business operations?

At Wienerberger, we support and enable the construction industry to create a better future by providing sustainable building solutions that improve energy and water efficiency as well as promoting biodiversity within the built environment. Climate change, biodiversity loss and resource scarcity are connected, and we aim to tackle these issues head-on by working in partnership with our partners and communities.

Our biodiversity strategy redefines our approach to land management in the UK and Ireland and places an emphasis on developing products and services that promote and enhance biodiversity. It covers five key areas of commitments:

  • Improving land assets is the first area and a key part of promoting biodiversity across our own land holdings to create valuable habitats and regional biodiversity. We demonstrate quantifiable improvement, monitoring and management using tools such as the Biodiversity Net Gain Metric and the Carbon Assessment Protocol to provide KPIs and measure our progress.
  • Developing products and services and considering the biodiversity impact of our products across the whole lifecycle, is the second area of focus. We use the Bioscope Assessment to calculate an ecological footprint score for each product category. This works alongside carbon and EPD data to reduce the impact of our products
  • Enhancing employee health and wellbeing is the next, with each site having a team or person nominated as a biodiversity ambassador to lead on local staff engagement surrounding biodiversity. We also provide nature areas so colleagues can spend time indirectly benefitting from nature, as well as opportunities to partake in habitat creation, management and monitoring activities.
  • Involving partnerships and communities is also important and we partner with other organisations to combine skills, experience and assets to solve problems and maximise the positive impact that our biodiversity strategy can have. These partnerships span science, product innovation, education and advocacy.
  • Sharing data and information is the final key focus area. Accurate land cover and habitat data covering all our land assets will be made available in due course. We will also be publishing internal reports detailing baseline KPI assessment data and progression, and we will use GIS software to share accurate maps for our colleagues to use in their daily roles.

How can this knowledge be used by the wider construction industry?

Our aim is to use the Natural England Metric 3.0 as a tool to measure our biodiversity value and achieve the mandatory 10% biodiversity net gain, whilst at the same time, implementing further non-mandatory improvements in addition to this. Essentially, we are taking the planning tool and using it in a strategic way to embed it across our entire business operations, not just from a land management point of view but applying it to our supply chain management and employee engagement etc.

We hope that by sharing our learning and experience as we go, we will inspire change across the wider construction industry by demonstrating what companies can do themselves – and the questions they can ask their supply chains – to reduce their environmental impact.

Planning for nature relies on making informed decisions from the outset, which are shaped by early communication and collaboration. In working together to ensure that biodiversity net gain is achieved on all building projects, the construction sector can do its part to minimise the impact of new developments.

To find out more about Wienerberger and its biodiversity strategy Let’s Build with Nature in Mind, or to discuss the innovative technologies available to increase biodiversity in your building project, visit: wienerberger.co.uk