Embracing Natural Capital – an exciting evolution

By Esther Round, Birketts

There is no doubt that change is a key opportunity for adaption and evolution.

Published in Norfolk Director Magazine Spring | Summer 2023

Legal : Birketts

The world of farming and farming businesses is moving especially quickly at the moment, as we’re seeing the transition away from European funded subsidy schemes, towards the Government’s ‘public money for public goods’ led policies. And Birketts’ Natural Capital team is witnessing huge strides being made by farmers and landowners of all sizes, as they embrace this new way forward.

But, what is Natural Capital?  The term is intended to capture all natural assets that are available to those working on the land, including ways in which those assets can be harnessed to bring both economic and ecological benefit.

Birketts is advising on multiple projects of varying sizes, from ‘dipping-your-toe-in’ to full-scale capital long-term investment. These projects fall into three key areas.

Biodiversity Net Gain

Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) is an initiative brought into force by recent government legislation and we are seeing projects intended to deliver BNG being embraced.

The concept is simple and is an amazingly interesting evolution of the development process intended to ensure biodiversity is enhanced. In essence, from November 2023 onwards, the vast majority of planning permissions will require a Gain Plan to be approved. The Gain Plan will show how the applicant will ensure that the result of the development will be a 10% net gain in biodiversity. BNG delivers measurable improvements for biodiversity by creating or enhancing habitats, and can be achieved on-site, off-site or through a combination of both. The biodiversity of a site is measured using the DEFRA metric, and units are allocated in accordance with the site’s score.

Our clients are involved with BNG in multiple ways. We have landowner clients offering their land up to developers for use as enhancement sites, developer clients approaching landowners to do just that, and farming clients entering into long-term agreements with Habitat Banks that bank the BNG units for future use; these are just some examples of a rapidly evolving picture.

Nutrient Neutrality mitigation schemes

In early 2022, new rules were issued which mean that no new developments will be permitted by many planning authorities, unless it can be shown that the development will not lead to higher levels of phosphates and nitrates in waterways. Norfolk is one such affected catchment area. These mitigation schemes will ensure that much-needed housebuilding projects can go forward, without inflicting further harm on our watercourses.

For example, Birketts is seeing client farmers and landowners selling or leasing land for the creation of constructed wetlands, which are intended to filter the offending nutrients out of waterways. We are helping them to find a profitable solution to a complex problem.

Carbon sequestering projects

Not so new but still shifting, are carbon sequestering projects. Birketts is witnessing more clients who are involved in large-scale woodland plantation schemes, as well as some of the most exciting peatland restoration ventures.  It is important to get the right advice when considering who owns the sequestration potential, especially where there are leasehold interests involved.

Main image credited to valio84sl, iStock via Getty Images

Embracing Natural Capital - an exciting evolution 1

If you would like to discuss any of these highly rewarding and potentially profitable initiatives, please contact Esther Round, Senior Associate, Head of Biodiversity Net Gain, Birketts.

E: esther-round@birketts.co.uk
T: 01603 756432
or visit: www.birketts.co.uk/sector/natural-capital

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