Evaluating measures to conserve and enhance biodiversity:
Islington Swifts Group are a wildlife conservation organisation based in north London, set up by myself in 2016. We aim to improve the protection and enhancement of populations of swifts and other endangered urban wildlife – either through change of policy, or better implementation of existing policy, as well as providing advice and assistance to residents and organisations. We work with other bodies such as Islington Council, and National Park City, to achieve this aim.
Biodiversity net gain has been unsuccessful with regard to recognising the value of integrated measures which provide sites for wildlife: nesting bricks for birds, roosting boxes for bats, bricks for bees and insects, and “hedgehog highways”.
These measures are not included in the biodiversity net gain methodology, although they are mentioned in the National Planning Policy Guidance which states: “…relatively small features can often achieve important benefits for wildlife, such as incorporating ‘swift bricks’ and bat boxes in developments and providing safe routes for hedgehogs between different areas of habitat” (Natural Environment – July 2019, Paragraph 023, Reference ID: 8‐023‐20190721).
These measures are further supported by the Living With Beauty report by the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission (30/01/20) which recommends: "Bricks for bees and birds in new build homes" (Policy Proposition 33, page 110); this document is referenced by the government’s current planning consultation.
This guidance is being implemented by some local planning authorities such as Islington and Hackney, to provide enhancement of biodiversity as justification for setting planning conditions which demand such integrated measures in new development. Other local authorities such as the neighbouring London boroughs are overlooking this guidance and not directly demanding such measures, resulting in very inconsistent implementation of the guidance with a long legacy, as it is usually impractical to retrofit such measures.
Such integrated measures can allow populations of endangered wildlife to flourish even in densely urban areas, such as amber-listed swifts and red-listed house sparrows, and allow valuable populations to be retained or created. Where developments are constrained by a lack of green space or restrictions due to conservation area status, such measures can be the only available option to create a habitat for wildlife and therefore effectively a biodiversity net gain.