New UK rules will force housing development builders to protect and increase wildlife

For animal advocates, and nature lovers, this is a wonderful development because studies have shown that the UK to be one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world mainly because it is a high human density environment where nature is being forced out and where intensive farming uses methods which are damaging to nature and wildlife generally.

New UK rules will force housing development builders to protect and increase wildlife by 10%

This appears to be a pushback from the British government in response to studies, as mentioned, that wild species are in decline in general. Even species such as house sparrows and hedgehogs have suffered steep population declines in a report by The Times.

From February 12, 2024, house builders such as Berkeley Homes will have to replace the habitat they destroy and increased by 10% in order to win planning permission. Rebecca Pow said that the new rules would be “transformational”.

The government hopes that the new rules will result in about 15,000 ha of new wildlife habitat being created annually from wetlands around new homes in Cambridgeshire and around grasslands in the South Downs National Park for instance.

A more pessimistic view is taken by Natural England, the nature watchdog. They believe that it’ll do some good but it will be like standing still, adding 10% of wildlife habitat is not going to be enough to make up for losses elsewhere. Improving biodiversity is a complicated and uncertain business.

They said: “While we talk a lot about nature recovery in England now, which is a welcome shift from conservation, which was about keeping things as they were compared with putting back a lot of what has gone, biodiversity net gain is about keeping things as they are.”

Tony Juniper, the chairman, said that, “It is important to remember that we are losing habitat as we create habitat and we are trying to stand still.”

As I understand it, the Environment Act 2021 allows councils to require companies to add more than 10% of natural habitat. Unfortunately, a survey has shown that few intend to take this opportunity. As I understand it, and this has not been explained, the new rules will force local authorities to ensure that building developers protect and enhance wildlife.

293 out of 317 councils in England require companies to restore 10% more habitat than they destroy. That appears to be more than “a few”.

A couple of councils, Guildford and Worthing require companies to restore 20% more habitat.

The chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link, Richard Benwell, said: “While 10% may help to prevent a decline, government must support much higher ambitions to restore nature.”

There are concerns that councils do not have the capacity or the expertise to make sure that developers comply with the rules. It can be quite technical, for example, the difference between a “low-scoring grass verge rather than a high-scoring reed bed” to meet the goals. Can councils enforce that kind of technical fine tuning?

It’s been described as a “significant opportunity for developers to deliver positive outcomes for nature and people” according to Sue Young of The Wildlife Trusts but she added that councils were “already under-resourced and lacking capacity and skills.”

The government has given £16 million to help councils comply with their obligations under these rules but Young claims that it is not enough.

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Post Category: Conservation