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Innovative trial will protect green spaces and raise funds

Innovative trial will protect green spaces and raise funds

19 March 2023
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Close up of wildflowers

Biodiversity in Wokingham Borough is set to improve if a new pilot ecological enhancement scheme in Woodley is approved by Wokingham Borough Council at a meeting of its decision-making executive on Tuesday, 21 March.


The pilot would be located at Ashenbury Park and would see new woodland and wildflower meadows created and the park’s existing woodlands improved. The pilot project would enrich the park’s biodiversity, protect the gains for 30 years, and if successful, could lead to further enhancement of the borough’s green spaces.


Biodiversity net gain

Biodiversity net gain (BNG) refers to the process of increasing the amount of natural habitat and wildlife within a given area. This can be achieved by creating new habitats, restoring degraded habitats, and improving existing habitats.


The goal of biodiversity net gain is to ensure that any development results in a net positive outcome for the environment. This means that any negative impacts of development should be offset by the creation or enhancement of new habitats that support a diverse range of species.


The Environment Act 2021 requires developments to include at least a 10 per cent biodiversity net gain from November 2023, which will be measured against a government metric and protected for at least 30 years.


BNG looks at the changes in the extent and quality of natural habitats found on a site before and after development, and is already required through national planning policy. It can be achieved on or off the development site, but there is no specific requirement for how great the gain currently needs to be.


Once the 10 per cent requirement comes in, developers will need to assess the biodiversity value of a site before and after development and if the assessment shows less than a 10 per cent improvement, they will need to provide additional off-site ‘biodiversity net gain (BNG) units’.


Developers will be able to buy BNG units from any landowner who creates and maintains new or enhanced biodiversity habitats, which must be maintained for 30 years. The landowner will need to monitor the site to ensure the improvements are succeeding. There is no fixed price for BNG units, and the government expects this to be a commercial market with the price being set by supply and demand.


The council is proposing to be a provider of BNG units by improving the biodiversity of existing council-owned property, such as countryside parks, public open spaces and farmland. The pilot scheme at Ashenbury Park is intended to test local demand and inform a project plan to deliver and sell BNG units in future.    


Ashenbury Park

The pilot scheme is at Ashenbury Park as it is big enough to be able to create a significant number of BNG units on one site. The improvements would cover most of the park, except the children’s play area and the events field which would remain as they currently are.


Benefits of the scheme would also include a large contribution to the council’s tree planting target. The sale of the biodiversity net gain units the scheme creates is currently expected to fully fund all necessary investment and the ongoing monitoring and maintenance of the site for 30 years.


Local residents, park users, Woodley Town Council and other interested parties will be able to give their views on the designs in a consultation in early summer, with the planting and seeding intended to be complete by March 2024.


By striving for biodiversity net gain, the council will not only ensure the survival of countless species, but also our own in a thriving and resilient ecosystem.


This is an opportunity for the council to do something it already aspired to, that will improve and protect our green spaces, and get developers to pay for it.


Biodiversity net gain is an important tool to  protect and enhance the natural world while also meeting the borough's needs for development, including economic development.


Council biodiversity net gain scheme

The council has identified a number of its public open spaces that it thinks could be part of the scheme, if the pilot is successful and there is local demand for BNG units. This would allow the sites to be ecologically improved and protected for 30 years, at no cost to the council.


Over the past year, the council has had to make some very difficult decisions about cutting back on services. The cost of living crisis, inflation and the continual underfunding by government for Wokingham Borough has put the authority in this unfortunate position.


This biodiversity project holds the potential for the council to get developers to fund improving and protecting some of our green spaces. This is therefore a way to protect and bolster our finances while improving our environment at the same time.

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