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Achieving biodiversity net gain by addressing governance gaps underpinning ecological compensation policies

Rampling, Emily E., zu Ermgassen, Sophus O. S. E., Hawkins, Isobel, Bull, Joseph W. (2023) Achieving biodiversity net gain by addressing governance gaps underpinning ecological compensation policies. Conservation Biology, 38 (2). Article Number e14198. ISSN 1523-1739. (doi:10.1111/cobi.14198) (KAR id:104337)


Biodiversity compensation policies have emerged around the world to address the ecological harms of infrastructure expansion, but historically compliance is weak. The Westminster government is introducing a requirement that new infrastructure developments in England demonstrate they achieve a biodiversity net gain (BNG). We sought to determine the magnitude of the effects of governance gaps and regulator capacity constraints on the policy's potential biodiversity impacts. We collated BNG information from all new major developments across six early‐adopter councils from 2020 to 2022. We quantified the proportion of the biodiversity outcomes promised under BNG at risk of noncompliance, explored the variation in strategies used to meet developers’ biodiversity liabilities, and quantified the occurrence of simple errors in the biodiversity metric calculations. For large developments and energy infrastructure, biodiversity liabilities frequently met within the projects’ development footprint. For small developments, the purchase of offsets was most common. We estimated that 27% of all biodiversity units fell into governance gaps that exposed them to a high risk of noncompliance because they were associated with better‐condition habitats delivered on‐site that were unlikely to be monitored or enforced. More robust governance mechanisms (e.g., practical mechanisms for monitoring and enforcement) would help ensure the delivery of this biodiversity on‐site. Alternatively, more biodiversity gains could be delivered through off‐site biodiversity offsetting. For the latter case, we estimated that the demand for offsets could rise by a factor of 4; this would substantially increase the financial contributions from developers for conservation activities on private land. Twenty‐one percent of development applications contained a simple recurring error in their BNG calculations. One‐half of these applications were approved by councils, which may indicate under‐resourcing in council development assessments. Our findings demonstrate that resourcing and governance shortfalls risk undermining the policy's effectiveness.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1111/cobi.14198
Additional information: For the purpose of open access, the author(s) has applied a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising
Uncontrolled keywords: biodiversity net gain; biodiversity offsetting; Environment Act; environmental policy; infrastructure sustainability; nature conservation; compensación por biodiversidad; conservación de la naturaleza; ganancia neta de biodiversidad; Ley Ambiental; política ambiental; sostenibilidad de la infraestructura
Subjects: H Social Sciences
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation > DICE (Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology)
Funders: Natural Environment Research Council (
University of Kent (
SWORD Depositor: JISC Publications Router
Depositing User: JISC Publications Router
Date Deposited: 13 Feb 2024 15:23 UTC
Last Modified: 08 Apr 2024 14:48 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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zu Ermgassen, Sophus O. S. E..

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Bull, Joseph W..

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