The UK Habitat Classification: informing Biodiversity Net Gain and de-risking Planning Applications

The UK Habitat Classification: informing Biodiversity Net Gain and de-risking Planning Applications

The commitment of the Government to mandate biodiversity net gain in England through the Environment Bill, and the revision of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in 2018 to put more emphasis on net gain are both likely to drive a requirement for higher resolution habitat data to be routinely collected for development projects.

Habitat classification needs to be robust in order to ensure that biodiversity metrics critical to calculating net gain can be accurately applied and their outcomes withstand scrutiny by nature conservation consultees and third parties. The UK Habitat Classification is a potentially important tool in de-risking planning applications, as it provides a more robust outcome than Phase 1 habitat survey.

The UK Habitat Classification

The UK Habitat Classification has been published to provide an up-to-date replacement for the current industry standard, JNCC’s Phase 1 habitat survey method. Whilst the Phase 1 method is simple to apply, the criteria for classification of some habitats are not specified in detail and are open to interpretation, which can result in disagreements between consultants and third parties over whether they have been correctly attributed.

Biodiversity Net Gain matrices require accurate identification and mapping of habitat types, and an assessment of their distinctiveness[1] and condition[2]. In combination, these variables provide the baseline conditions against which biodiversity net gain is measured. It follows that it is important that they are recorded accurately using a clearly defined and repeatable method. The UK Habitat Classification directly addresses the first of these requirements, in that it provides a diagnostic key: a much clearer and more defensible method of habitat categorization than Phase 1.

The potential importance of UK Habitat Classification in the delivery of biodiversity net gain is highlighted by the fact that the forthcoming Defra Metric 2.0 (which is likely to become the industry standard metric) is expected to use data that have been generated in accordance with the UK Habitat Classification as the default option.

Viewpoint

The UK Habitat Classification is a more powerful tool for Biodiversity Net Gain calculations, but requires a higher level of technical expertise in vegetation survey than is needed for Phase 1 survey. Developers and planners will therefore need to ensure that the consultants they engage have a demonstrable track record in vegetation survey to complement their understanding of the application of the metric.

BSG Ecology has worked on a large number of Biodiversity Net Gain projects nationwide and has an in-house team of specialist botanical surveyors who are all familiar with the UK Habitat Classification. If you would like to discuss the Net Gain requirements for your project please contact one of our offices. Further information on UK Habitat Classification can be found here: UK Habitat Classification Working Group

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[1] Distinctiveness is typically automatically calculated by the biodiversity metric.

[2] Condition is assessed by the surveyor, based on guidance from Natural England or from the provider of the biodiversity calculator being used.

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