As part of the Festival of Nature, Atkins celebrates with a series of articles that highlight and reflect on our contribution to a sustainable society, and how this is incorporated into every project we undertake. It’s not part of what we do – it’s who we are.
The first topic in the series is Net Environmental Gain, and we bring you the knowledge and expertise of Claire Wansbury, Atkins Associate Director and Technical Authority for Biodiversity and Natural Capital in the UK and Europe. It provides first-hand knowledge about the net environmental gain and how it has been successfully achieved across the industry.
The importance of net gain
Developers from all sectors in the UK are being urged to deliver a ‘net gain in biodiversity’ at an increasing rate, including us here at Atkins. Biodiversity is the variety of life on earth, including ecosystems, habitats and species; it is a key part of our natural capital, which underpins most ecosystem services.
For context – a net gain in biodiversity occurs when development leaves biodiversity in a better state than before. This means that a project would result in an overall increase in biodiversity as a result of new development, measurable using a habitat-based metric as a proxy representing the value of biodiversity. This is Atkins’ aspiration in all of our projects.
Atkins is at the forefront of the Net Gain Biodiversity approach, helping to guide best practice and then testing new methods and measures on our clients’ projects to help create what is now becoming standards. national.
In this article, I have combined our work on net biodiversity gain with over a decade of experience in valuing natural capital to think about what a wider environmental net gain could and should look like.
In addition to becoming a legal necessity as a result of the environmental bill, the net gain in biodiversity may also be a key part of the action needed to tackle climate and biodiversity emergencies – again, some something huge for our company and which we want to guarantee happens as widely as possible.
Add value, to go further
The net gain in biodiversity must bring real improvements for nature. However, it can also bring increased value of natural capital, creating direct benefits in other ways. This is a net environmental gain.
As Defra explains: “Achieving a net environmental gain means first realizing a net gain in biodiversity, and going further to achieve net increases in the capacity of earmarked natural capital to provide ecosystem services”.
It can be intimidating to know where to start with what added value can be provided by net biodiversity gain interventions. Developers, environmentalists and designers must work together to deliver real net environmental gain.
By applying this attitude to projects, Atkins colleagues and I have increasingly realized that good design can be good for nature and for people, creating this net environmental gain, which itself then provides. a wealth of social value.
To help designers consider these opportunities, Atkins has identified three key types of potential added value, which can be seen in the text and diagram below:
Carbon capture – habitat creation and restoration can make an important contribution to climate change mitigation. Examples include planting trees (with the right trees in the right places) and creating wetlands.
Climate change adaptation and resilience – help protect infrastructure and homes, for example, against increased risks of flooding caused by climate change and other factors such as urbanization.
health and wellbeing – beneficial for physical and mental health through better access to and commitment to nature, as well as improved air quality.
Each net biodiversity gain intervention will not always produce all three types of added value. Opportunities and priorities should be identified based on individual circumstances; this will inform the options available, and which should be selected to ensure the right intervention and offer the best value for money. The end result is an optimal benefit for biodiversity, with social added value.
Let’s be specific – Atkins examples
There are various tools and metrics to help inform decision making for net gain, with two main types in the foreground.
1. The biodiversity metric for net biodiversity gain from Defra and Natural England. An example of Atkins’ work in this area is that of Redrow Houses.
Even before the government announced its intention to impose a net biodiversity gain on all new developments in England, Redrow Homes had already planned how to implement this approach at its development sites. The ultimate goal: for the net gain to become part of the national biodiversity strategy, as well as the larger ambitious vision.
A pilot study was undertaken at three existing Redrow development sites using the Defra biodiversity metric. After an in-depth assessment, Redrow got an in-depth look at how the net gain in biodiversity could be achieved in future developments.
As a result, Redrow has advanced its biodiversity strategy and created measurable goals to improve biodiversity at all of its sites.
2. The second type of tools to inform decision making for net gain are natural capital valuation tools, such as the Atkins Natural Capital Studio. A study conducted by Atkins for Spains Hall Estate demonstrated this aspect.
Changes in land management, including agroforestry, natural flood management and beaver release, were under consideration at the Spains Hall Estate. The aim was to improve the delivery of ecosystem services across all land ownership in this large estate. Atkins created a natural capital account of current assets, as well as an assessment of the expected value of the ecosystem as a result of these changes.
Potential changes in fifteen ecosystems were assessed to understand their financial value. The result has been the potential benefits of nature-based solutions, including biodiversity, air quality and carbon capture, with significant additional social benefits. Increasing benefits to biodiversity has been a key part of the evidence base for the estate’s successful application for Natural England’s Net Gain Biodiversity Credit pilot project.
As developers increasingly need to provide a net gain in biodiversity, this should provide wider benefits to the natural world and local communities.
It’s an opportunity to unlock value that we can’t afford to miss. Good planning and design can enable the creation and enhancement of habitats that are undertaken with a primary driver of providing a net gain in biodiversity to deliver even wider environmental benefits – a true net environmental gain.
Claire Wansbury is Atkins Associate Director and Technical Authority for Biodiversity and Natural Capital in the UK and Europe.
This article is sponsored by Atkins.