The Climate Challenge – Winning strategies for biodiversity net gain


With the legal requirement to bring biodiversity net gain into developments imminent, David King of award-winning open space management company Meadfleet explores the options and challenges for housebuilders.

Though the official introduction of the requirement to deliver biodiversity net gain (BNG) on developments has been pushed back to January, it is already embedded in policy and local plans, and housebuilders are looking for the right solutions to successfully meet the new requirements. With many unanswered questions circulating, and key details yet to be provided, developers are reviewing the challenges and the solutions available. 

In 2024 it becomes mandatory under The Environment Act 2021 that all future planning applications of nine units and over must produce at least a 10% uplift in biodiversity – with the aim of creating a strategic nature recovery plan that leaves the natural environment in a better condition. 

However, as there will always be a loss of biodiversity from construction, housebuilders will have three BNG compliance options. (It is likely that a combination of these solutions will be required to achieve the necessary gains):

  • providing onsite net gain within the development
  • offsite solutions
  • the purchase of statutory credits from Natural England. 


Developers cannot pick whichever option suits them for each new scheme. The legislation stipulates a hierarchy of options, with onsite solutions the primary option, then offsite, and finally the purchase of statutory credits as a last resort. It will need to be demonstrated that a solution is unachievable before moving to the next option.

With onsite net gain the primary solution, most future developments will incorporate more extensive and complex habitats within their green infrastructure, requiring suitable long-term management. This has its own challenges depending on the scale of open space available, and the impact this has on the developable land. 

The marketplace for the purchase of offsite units generated by third party landowners is unclear, with no formal central database and the Natural England Biodiversity Net Gain Register being used purely for registering a development’s allocated offsite units. This has created a minefield for developers regarding availability, location, suitability, and cost when having to progress with this option. 

It is unlikely there will be local offsite units available for all requirements from the outset. Buying and selling units across local planning authority (LPA) boundaries will be inevitable which will increase costs as penalties are incurred when units are outside the LPA. The availability of ‘high distinctiveness’ habitat units and watercourse units is also likely to be a challenge. Alternatively, there is an option for housebuilders to buy offsite land to generate the required credits and appoint a suitable management organisation to deliver the biodiversity improvements over the
30-year period.

The statutory biodiversity credit scheme aims to ensure that the pace of development in England is not impacted by the new legislation, offering a costly last resort solution. With prices starting at £42,000 plus VAT per credit, is this a viable solution even in the short term?

The additional requirements are certainly a challenge for developers and will impact the viability and speed of housing developments, with small and medium sized developers likely to be
most affected.


Through our discussions with developers, we’ve been able to highlight the pros and cons of different BNG solutions, both at a high level and in detail. For example, the purchase of adjacent land for onsite offsetting might seem a straightforward solution, but it comes with challenges. Should it have public access and what implications does this bring in terms of increased maintenance costs? Also, the effect of additional areas on baseline calculations must be considered.

There is also the question of long-term funding of on and offsite solutions. We are involved in projects with a range of scenarios, including resident contribution and commuted sum solutions, or a mix of the two.

Meadfleet already applies many of the BNG principles on the 300+ developments we manage across England and Wales. We have the inhouse expertise to review detailed ecological assessments and calculations and provide feedback, and to undertake the monitoring and adaptive management techniques required to ensure habitat targets are met over the 30-year period.


There are understandable concerns in the housebuilding market regarding the long-term responsibility of a 30-year covenant, and selecting the right management model to entrust with the new requirements. 

There is a need for a lifetime management solution that can take on the liability and complexity of the requirements involved. There are already many aspects of open space management that require specialist expertise including play areas, woodlands, and SuDS.  With members of the public accessing open spaces, risks must be carefully managed. With the addition of BNG and the crucial role the legislation will play in providing spaces for nature, it is vital that these areas are managed by experienced open space experts.

Self-management may seem to offer more choice and input, but the reality is often complex systems resulting in higher charges, inactivity, and confusion. Directors are burdened with legal and administrative issues including enforcement action which could leave them liable. This casts doubt as to whether the resident management model can ensure the successful delivery of BNG.  

A lifetime management model with in-house expertise to manage all aspects of open space features objectively and responsibly, over the long-term, is designed to ensure a developer’s legacy is protected and risks minimised. Developers should look for long-standing organisations with a proven reputation for excellence and expertise and the in-house specialist knowledge required. This approach also helps reduce customer costs and provides clear lines of accountability.


Historically, open spaces contained formal mown grass areas and ornamental shrub beds, but now we are seeing the addition of features such as wildflower meadows and wildlife-friendly SuDS. These require a different management approach to ensure they successfully achieve their intended purpose; however this can lead to queries as to why areas have been left ‘unmanaged,’ and suggestions that this should result in reduced costs to customers. 

Education and engagement are crucial to alter perceptions of what open spaces will look like. Over recent years we’ve been voluntarily improving our open spaces for biodiversity and engaging customers and communities in this journey. Our wildlife-focused campaigns and partnerships with biodiversity charities have been important tools in achieving this.

Demonstrating how biodiverse open spaces will enrich the local environment to prospective purchasers from the beginning of the customer journey is key to the ongoing mindset towards open space delivery. Examples include information leaflets to ensure early engagement, customer newsletters, and resources to fully engage with residents for the lifetime of the development. 


The benefit that biodiversity net gain will have to the current climate and biodiversity crisis is exponential, and aligning the industry with the Government’s BNG targets will more firmly place sustainability at the centre of future development.

Through a collaborative solution-based approach and the positive promotion of the initiatives in projects, we can help create a future where customers seek to live in a biodiverse neighbourhood, and where developers are applauded for providing it.

David King is managing director of Meadfleet