The government released their plan to improve the environment on the 12th of January ‘A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment’.

The 150 page document sets out a 25 year plan covering, air, water, terrestrial and marine wildlife, environmental hazards, farming, visual and open space use, climate change adaption, waste management, management of chemical and biosecurity.

We have summarised the points that we consider to be key to the preservation of terrestrial habitats and the species that use them, and those which are likely to be of most interest to us as ecological consultants and our clients. This is not to say that the other topics covered are not as important, they are, and if you are interested in any of the other issues the plan addresses, follow this link to the full report.

Of all the key points that may be of interest to the housing industry is the proposed net gain approach for development and infrastructure. Net gain as a principle is already embedded in the planning process through the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The 25 year plan describes using this process to deliver local net gain strategies whilst enabling development without placing undue burdens on developers.  We are interested to hear what this will look like in practice.

The 25 year plan cites the introduction of the Natural England (NE) changes to great crested newt (GCN) licensing which allows local authorities to hold district wide organisational licences. Local authorities (or other partners) will provide and manage greenspace funded by contributions from developers.  The environmental consultancy industry body CIEEM is working on guidance for the sector that will help guide planning delivery. One option is that the value of land (loss of) will be calculated based on ecological value at Local Plan Level so that financial contributions can be calculated per dwelling/development area. This contribution will fund land, enhancements and management for wildlife to be delivered by the local authority and therefore no net loss can be achieved.

The plan also proposes the following:

  • The no net loss approach be expanded to include, flood protection, recreation, air and water quality.
  • The use of Natural Capital Accounting as part of policy drivers.
  • Producing new standards for Green/Blue infrastructure.
  • District licencing of more species.
  • Guidance to tighten the links between SUDs, water quality and biodiversity.
  • Developing a Nature Recovery Network to protect and restore wildlife, by connecting and complementing England best sites.
  • Introducing conservation covenants for land owners/managers.
  • Introducing a code and guidance for the reintroduction of native species.

In the UK we have close to 1 million ha of protected terrestrial and freshwater sites.  The 25 year plan proposes to restore 75% of this area, which is a EU requirement for international sites, RAMSAR, SPA, SAC, SSSI.

  • The plan proposes to create or restore 5000,000ha of wildlife rich habitat as a Nature Recovery Network outside of the existing network.
  • Taking action to recover threatened, iconic or economically important species, and where possible preventing human induced extinction.
  • Planting 180,000ha of woodland by the end of 2042, to create 12% coverage – does this account for incremental loss over the intervening timeframe?
  • Making sure that high quality, accessible, natural spaces are available close to where people live and work, particularly in urban settings.
  • Managing and reducing the impact of existing plant and animal diseases; lowering the risk of new ones and tackling invasive non-native species through the Plant Health Biosecurity Strategy 2020.

The plan sets out an aspirational view of the next 25 years.  However, in most areas it does not provide information on resourcing, nor does it set delivery dates where they did not already exist. In addition, some aspirations imply a conflict, for instance in delivering a doubling of the use of natural resources, whilst preserving and enhancing them.

The Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 states a short term ambition to halt the loss of biodiversity and ensure that by 2020 ecosystems are resilient and continue to provide essential services. With regular flooding, continued loss of species and habitats through the current subjective view of how to use the existing wildlife legislation, it could be inferred that the 25year plan has in fact delayed the potential for this “short term” level of achievement.

Whilst many of the aspirations outlined in the plan are admirable, without clear thinking on how they can be achieved with measurable goals put in place it is possible that they will remain just that, aspirations.