Biodiversity Net Gain and People’s Wellbeing

Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) is transforming how we finance, design, build and operate development, with the UK’s Good Practice Principles providing an approach for development to generate long-term, measurable and meaningful benefits for biodiversity (CIEEM, CIRIA, IEMA, 2016). But while we are making progress towards this goal, it is important to remain mindful of the connection between nature and people’s wellbeing.

BNG can benefit people directly, for example when communities can enjoy high quality natural surroundings either by BNG being achieved within the development footprint or when a biodiversity offset increases people’s access to, or views of, nature. Indirectly, of course, more biodiversity in the right place has a wider societal benefit of supporting a healthy environment for everyone. But poorly– designed BNG can be detrimental to people’s wellbeing, restricting access to nature with a development site, for example, without adequate alternative provision.

Existing policies should enable BNG to benefit people, and ensure that potential detrimental impacts on people from BNG are addressed. However, for social impacts of BNG to be properly considered it must be in a holistic way that fully understands or addresses how people’s wellbeing is affected.

International principles were published to address the social impacts of No Net Loss and BNG in depth (Bull et al, 2018). These ‘People Principles’ set an outcome for NNL/BNG projects to achieve:

People perceive the components of their wellbeing affected by biodiversity losses and gains to be at least as good as a result of the development project and associated biodiversity NNL/NG activities, than if the development had not been implemented.

Wellbeing is defined as a positive physical, social and mental state. The ‘People Principles’ for NNL/BNG focus on wellbeing related to biodiversity. Their application involves measuring change to people’s wellbeing that is caused by losses and gains in biodiversity from a development and its BNG activities.

Thanks to funding from the Esmée Fairbairn Trust, CIEEM in collaboration with Balfour Beatty and the University of Oxford, is undertaking a scoping study to determine if, and how, wellbeing should be incorporated more directly into the UK industry’s good practice approach to BNG. We would also like to understand the challenges, issues and risks of incorporating wellbeing and how these might be overcome.

As part of this study, we are currently undertaking a survey on practitioners’ and stakeholders’ attitudes towards incorporating people’s wellbeing factors into BNG design. The survey results will be published here in early 2021.

Take the survey

The BNG and Wellbeing Project team delivered a webinar about the project in November 2020 which can be viewed here.