Free guide for planners on Biodiversity in Planning

In the face of growing street protests and alarming news reports about global species decline, what can planning authorities do to address the biodiversity crisis? A new RTPI Practice Advice Note aims to help…

The ‘RTPI Biodiversity in Planning: Obligations and opportunities to promote biodiversity through UK planning systems’ guidance note has been produced to highlight some of the key areas that local planning authorities (LPAs) throughout the UK can focus on to fulfil their statutory Biodiversity duty.

“Investing positively in biodiversity can deliver multiple benefits, promoting resilience to climate change, health and wellbeing, local economies, as well as enhancing natural systems and wildlife”

The practice advice note provides an overview of the main obligations and opportunities for planners to promote biodiversity through the four UK planning systems. It outlines the main challenges and opportunities relating to biodiversity, summarises current national statutory duties and offers practical pointers to support the integration of biodiversity into local policy, practice and individual development schemes.

The most recent State of Nature’ report shows that, despite clear warnings and commitments to local and national action, trends in the natural world are looking worse than the last review in 2016, with one in seven species threatened with extinction in Great Britain. This decline is linked to various factors, including intensive agriculture which involves habitat loss, reduction in soil quality and heavy use of fertilisers and pesticides. Pollution, from over-consumption and the production of waste, is harming many species and habitats. Rapid urbanisation is fragmenting habitats and degrading the natural environment. Climate change is also affecting biodiversity with extreme weather events and changes in the pattern of seasons affecting wildlife behaviour and forcing some species to seek more habitable climates. In addition, non-native invasive species, such as the Canada Goose, Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed, are out-competing native species or spreading disease.

LPAs can work to protect and enhance biodiversity in a number of ways:

  • Adopting an integrated strategic planning approach to biodiversity in local plans and local nature recovery networks;
  • Promoting biodiverse developments through planning conditions and obligations
  • Managing local government public assets to enhance biodiversity;
  • Collaborative working with other LPAs, public bodies and local stakeholders;
  • Embedding biodiversity evaluation and monitoring;
  • Establishing robust financial and long-term management arrangements.

The paper highlights a range of good practice that is already happening throughout the country. Much of this good practice involves collaboration across LPA boundaries and multiple actors. For example, the Mersey Forest Partnership, involves seven LPAs, local business and public agencies in a range of projects, including ten local ‘Friends of the Woodlands’ groups who care for their local woods and have planted over 9 million trees since the beginning of the project in the early 1990s.

The advice note also refers to a free online tool for developers, the Wildlife Assessment Check, developed by the partnership, to help identify those protected and priority species and statutory designated sites that might be affected by a development and to highlight whether the developer needs to seek expertise from a consultant ecologist. In an ideal world, all developments would take account of their wildlife impact and seek to enhance biodiversity, as the government’s new Biodiversity Net Gain proposal is calling for. However many smaller developers may be unaware of the statutory protections in place to support wildlife. The Wildlife Assessment Check aims to help them take greater account of their impact and consider ways to enhance their proposals to promote wildlife. It also aims to smooth out the planning application process for LPAs, improving the quality of applications in relation to biodiversity requirements.

Current trends suggest that we need to be doing much more and on a greater scale than ever before to protect and enhance biodiversity, let alone help recover species and habitats back to sustainable levels. This joint publication seeks to outline core requirements and give examples about what is possible, and help to stimulate even further local action.

Further information

  • ‘Biodiversity in Planning’ RTPI practice advice note
  • The RTPI is one of 19 conservation, planning and development organisations involved in the ‘Partnership for Biodiversity in Planning’, a project funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, seeking to promote the importance of biodiversity in planning and development. The partners argue that, through better planning and development humanity can both benefit from and live more harmoniously with nature

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