Biodiversity refers to the variety and variability of life on Earth that humanity depends upon. The UK has committed to stop the loss and degradation of biodiversity and to support a net gain or increase in biodiversity in new developments (UN Sustainable Development Goal 15; HMG, 2018; Scottish Government, 2014;Welsh Government, 2016/2018; Northern Ireland Executive, 2015). There are various challenges relating to biodiversity that need to be addressed in the UK planning system:
Biodiversity under threat
Globally, scientists report that we are facing a ‘sixth mass extinction’, with the rate of extinction for wildlife species at over 100 times the ‘normal rate’ (Cellballos et al, 2015). In the UK, more than half of the 4,000 species assessed between 1970 and 2013 have declined in number. Of 8,000 UK species of highest conservation concern, 1,200 species (15%) are now extinct or threatened with extinction (State of nature report, 2016). This decline has been linked to habitat changes and loss through new development, amongst other causes (UK 2018 biodiversity indicators).
Constrained planning capacity
It is a statutory duty for all public authorities to have regard for biodiversity conservation. The planning system offers an opportunity to reverse biodiversity loss through promoting wildlife conservation and restoration. However, only one third of local authorities have an in-house ecology officer (ALGE, 2013) requiring external consultants or non-expert planners to assess the many thousands of planning applications received.
Small-scale developers are often unaware that their planning applications are incomplete because they have not sought expert ecological advice as a part of their application. This can result in delays and additional knock-on costs, such as when unforeseen ecological surveys have to be carried out during particular seasons.