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Leveraging biodiversity net gain: the role of adaptive management software

How ready is your planning department for the impending biodiversity net gain (BNG) changes? Alison Cameron, CMSi Business Development Consultant at Idox, explains the critical success factors for successful long-term BNG reporting and how our software and partners can help transform your approach to achieving critical biodiversity and environmental goals. 

Understanding biodiversity net gain 

The preservation and enhancement of biodiversity and the environment are paramount to sustainable development. The Environment Act 2021 amended the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, requiring planning authorities in England to ensure delivery of a minimum 10% BNG. This signifies a transformative shift in land management practices by advocating a quantifiable and demonstrable increase in biodiversity within development projects. 

BNG will become a statutory requirement when the secondary legislation passes through parliament. It will initially apply to ‘large planning development sites’ from February 2024 for sites granted planning permission under the UK Town and Country Planning Act. BNG will apply to small development sites from April 2024 and Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) from late 2025. BNG is a pre-commencement condition so a BNG plan must be approved by the planning authority before development begins. 

BNG is to be achieved by safeguarding ecosystems, promoting resilience by mitigating biodiversity loss, and enhancing ecosystem services. The long-term goals of BNG include improving ecological health, improving community well-being, and creating a thriving natural environment. 

Challenges faced by local planning authorities in setting BNG plans

Local planning authorities (LPAs) require access to appropriate data, systems, and processes to set BNG targets within their local plans. They also need systems to assess and evaluate BNG submissions, agree how BNG units will be secured (via conservation covenants and S106 agreements), monitor outcomes, and apply necessary enforcement. 

One important stipulation of the new regulations means LPAs must monitor and report on BNG outcomes over a minimum 30-year period. A requirement of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006, information reporting will include scale and losses of planned versus actual outcomes, qualitative and quantitative reporting on actions taken by an authority, and plans for the future. 

To achieve this, planning authorities require IT systems with a geospatial component for mapping BNG baselines, goals and outcomes. Data impacting biodiversity and the environment may be of local, regional, national, or global significance.

Critical success factors for successful long-term BNG reporting

Effective long-term BNG reporting will require a reliable, comprehensive, and multi-faceted approach. It will be necessary to continuously integrate and securely manage large volumes of data spanning several decades to get an accurate view of an ever-evolving natural environment. 

To do this successfully, LPAs will need to:

  • Access reliable information sources (including geospatial and other data);
  • Ensure good communication, collaboration and commitment across stakeholders;
  • Continuously monitor, assess and report on BNG outcomes;
  • Identify and mitigate risks;
  • Effectively record, monitor, assess and adapt goals;
  • Provide expert conservation, ecology and land management knowledge;
  • Ensure good decision-making; 
  • Enforce agreements; and
  • Learn through the BNG process and outcomes delivered. 

There is far more responsibility on LPAs in managing the BNG reporting process, but much of this pressure can be reduced through an appropriate land management software solution.

Given these requirements, and with mounting pressures on budget and resources, there is far more responsibility on LPAs in managing the BNG reporting process, but much of this pressure can be reduced through an appropriate land management software solution.  

The importance of adaptive management software in BNG reporting

Adaptive management software provides vital support to stakeholders in BNG projects, including developers, land managers, ecologists and LPAs. 

With adaptive management software, such as Conservation Management System International (CMSi), from Exegesis, an Idox company, users can document their understanding of the dynamic and ever-changing nature of ecosystems, landscapes, and the influences of human activities. It also records and facilitates the review of relevant decisions. The multi-faceted capabilities of this software empower conservationists, land managers, and policymakers to effectively navigate the complexities of biodiversity enhancement to transform the approach to achieving critical biodiversity and environmental goals.  

The benefits of adaptive management software include: 

  • Data-driven decision making
  • Dynamic planning and implementation
  • Continuous monitoring, reporting and adaptation
  • Stakeholder engagement and transparency

CMSi for BNG supports LPAs with decision-making, recording and reporting. It also provides data-driven insight to help ecologists make more informed evaluations, allow stakeholders to monitor and report changes and results long-term, and help guide interventions to ensure the most positive impact on long-term biodiversity.

Future vision

The integration of adaptive management software such as CMSi into the IT environment of LPAs signifies a fundamental shift in environmental conservation. It transforms land management into a dynamic, data-informed, and adaptive process. Embracing the synergy between technology and conservation can unlock the potential to mitigate our ecological footprint and even actively restore and enrich our natural world. 

As environmental challenges grow increasingly complex, the partnership between CMSi and existing planning application platforms to manage BNG projects represents a progressive approach that prioritises a harmonious balance between development and ecological preservation. To streamline operations, enhance efficiency, and simplify processes, CMSi seamlessly integrates with Idox’s case management solutions. Through collaboration, we can successfully pave the way for a sustainable future where biodiversity thrives and ecosystems flourish for generations to come.

Find out more

Please contact us to find out more about Idox’s CMSi solution for BNG.

Published on: 7 February 2024

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