Since the publication of the Defra Metric 2.0 in July 2019 its application on projects, as practitioners and planners sought to understand the intricacies of the system and the supporting documents, has led to the conclusion that in a number of areas the system was throwing out some challenging outcomes. This included some of the most valuable habitat types, being heavily scored down on the basis of risk and the time that they would take to reach “target” condition.
Of particular interest to all of us at Lockhart Garratt was the position in respect of woodland. Despite being recognised as a habitat type capable of delivering high quality environmental outcomes, Defra 2.0 was producing scores that put woodland barely ahead of amenity grassland.
Over recent months Defra, Natural England and key stakeholder partners, have been working to address many of the issues with the Metric, to provide a more balanced outcome, providing greater clarity and certainty.
Defra Metric 3.0
This work has now come to fruition and as of 7th July the new Defra Metric 3.0 was launched and can be accessed via Natural England’s Access to Evidence website.
The link provides access to all the relevant background information including the Metric, condition assessment and user guides.
The main changes are as follows:-
- Complete overhaul of the condition assessments which have now been simplified to remove some of the ambiguity in the earlier versions;
- Removal of accelerated succession;
- GIS import facility to bulk import data to the metric;
- Additional sections have been added to allow for advanced and delayed creation/enhancement of habitats;
- Changes to the way in which woodland is assessed; and
- Changes to the way in which inter-tidal habitats are assessed.
All these changes and others are summarised in a document on Natural England’s website.
Having reviewed some of our projects we are finding that some schemes, in particular those with a significant proportion of new woodland creation and tree planting, which is often a critical element of the landscaping scheme for screening and placemaking, are producing more favourable results under Metric 3.0. On one scheme we were seeing the woodland habitat scores increasing by some 250%.
Although not yet a mandatory requirement, many local authorities are now seeking to secure biodiversity net gain on both existing and new projects. We have recently had experience of planning authorities introducing planning conditions that will require the 10% biodiversity net gain to be delivered.
It therefore continues to be important to understand the biodiversity position of new sites as they come forward.
In our view we would recommend the following approach:-
- Preliminary site assessment to establish the baseline position and identify any key habitats where removal could have a significant impact on the biodiversity value of a site.
- Confirm the baseline position with the local planning authority and key stakeholders ASAP to protect positions where advanced landscape and habitat enhancement may be a valuable option.
- Re-run any site calculations already prepared on Metric 2.0, on the new Metric to identify any issues and explore options for habitat revisions that may better suit the development outcome. Some local authorities may be looking for continuity under Metric 2.0, but having the above information will help to better informal any negotiations.
In addition to the Metric 3.0, Defra have also launched a version of the Metric for use on smaller schemes. This beta version of the Metric is now available for use and feedback – http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/6047259574927360 .
This Metric will apply to the following development:
The Small Sites Metric is a simplified version of the Biodiversity Metric 3.0. It has been specifically designed for use on small development sites where the project chooses to do so. Such sites are defined (for the purposes of this Small Sites Metric) as small sites where BOTH of the following criteria are met:
1) Development sites where;
- For residential developments the number of dwellings to be provided is between one and nine inclusive on a site having an area of less than one hectare;
- Where the number of dwellings to be provided is not known and the site area is less than 0.5 hectares and;
- For all other development types where the site area is less than 0.5hectares or less than 5000 metres squared.
2) Where there is no priority habitat present within the development area (excluding hedgerows and arable margins).
It is not appropriate to use the Small Sites Metric to calculate offsite losses and gains.
Environmental Net Gain
As reported in earlier articles biodiversity net gain is only part of the picture and by simply focusing on biodiversity you can miss the real target of the wider, some would say more sustainable, goal of broader environmental net gain. There are many other benefits that are critical to our natural capital and wider society that would be encompassed under a wider environmental net gain approach. For example:-
- Clean air;
- Clean water;
- Carbon sequestration;
- Flood prevention;
- Soil protection;
- Food/timber production;
- Physical health and wellbeing;
- Landscape; and
In their own consultation document the government admitted that biodiversity net gain alone is unlikely to be the best way to deliver wider environmental objectives.
In conjunction with the launch of the Defra Biodiversity Metric 3.0; Natural England have also launched the Beta version of the Eco-metric now renamed The Environmental Benefits from Nature Tool which is designed to work alongside the Biodiversity Metric 3.0 and provide developers, planners and other interested parties with a means of enabling wider benefits for people and nature from biodiversity net gain. The tool uses a habitat-based approach to provide a common and consistent means of considering the direct impact of land use change across 18 ecosystem services.
It has been developed by Natural England and the University of Oxford in partnership with Defra, the Forestry Commission and the Environment Agency to support the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan commitment to expand net gain approaches to include wider natural capital benefits such as flood protection, recreation and improved water and air quality.
Lockhart Garratt have supported the pilot trials and have good understanding of the tool and its application.