FWAG SW and GNCF Biodiversity Net Gain Event – Royal Agricultural University 30/11/2022

Sponsored by Hazlewoods

On Wednesday the 30th of November we welcomed 50 farmers, landowners and other members of the rural community in Gloucestershire to the RAU to the ELMS phase 3 launch event led by Jenny Phelps MBE. We were joined by Rachel Lenane from the Gloucestershire Nature + Climate Fund (GNCF) who spoke on biodiversity net gain – what it is, how it works and how to sign up to a BNG scheme with GNCF. The talk outlined the opportunities that BNG can bring to farmers and landowners in the county. GNCF are a not-for-profit broker for environmental enhancement projects who aim to create a market for biodiversity units within Gloucestershire. As outlined in the Environment Act (2021) all planning permissions granted in England are required to deliver at least a 10% net gain to biodiversity as of November 2023. Developers are expected where possible to achieve this on site, however off-site creation is estimated to be at a rate of 30-60%. This provides an opportunity for farmers and landowners to create or restore habitat and sell the resultant uplift in biodiversity units to developers, of which GNCF broker. Habitat restoration and creation is to be implemented with reference to Gloucestershire Nature Recovery Network and it is expected that, on average, 2-3 BNG units can be achieved per hectare at a market rate of £22-£25k per unit. GNCF are currently looking to receive expressions of interest in joining the scheme from landowners who are interested in signing up a minimum of ~7 hectares by end of January 2023. For more information contact Rachel at [email protected].

We also welcomed Andrew Bower, a landowner and land agent with farms in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley. He has already undertaken a baseline BNG survey of his land to estimate available biodiversity net gain units achievable and is at the forefront of landowners who are participating in BNG in Gloucestsershire. He highlighted the need for many forms of advice in order to make an informed decision on participation in BNG, such as solicitors, ecologists, accountants and land agents. He also clarified that landowners should manage their expectations with the market at this time as where they may plan for habitat creation/restoration to result in a certain number of units, it may only be possible to sell a fraction of that. In terms of scheme implementation, there is a 12-month habitat creation period once an agreement is approved of which Andrew stated there are 2 mechanisms of how this can be achieved. Landowners have the opportunity of self-managing the agreement or investing in the help of contractors or management companies – of which Andrew warned that whilst it may take stress away from the process comes with its own risks as well as the cuts to the funding received.  

Nicholas Smail from Hazlewoods Business Advisers and Chartered Accountants also attended and discussed the tax implications of entering into a BNG scheme. Nicholas spoke about the effect of BNG on inheritance tax and therefore agricultural property and business property relief as well as the potential change in land value that came with habitat restoration. Whilst the technicalities of the scheme and its implications on tax are yet to be confirmed, Nicholas expressed the importance of contacting a solicitor and accountant if interested in the scheme. Nicholas can be contacted at [email protected].

Finally, Jenny Phelps MBE discussed ELM phase 3 which has now received funding from DEFRA. Previous trails emphasised the importance of a baseline habitat map and phase 3 aims to facilitate that by delivering farm data and knowledge. This will be achieved through the creation of a habitat map on the Land App, a habitat restoration and creation opportunities map and a Global Farm Metric (GFM) assessment. Marina Suarez, from the Sustainable Food Trust also joined us to discuss the GFM, which intends to provide a common framework that defines on-farm sustainability. Attendees were encouraged to sign up to receive a free sustainability survey that would make it easier for farmers and landowners to provide on-farm sustainability measurements when required, without the hassle of repeated surveys and audits.

The event was a great success and we would like to thank everyone that attended.

Click below if you would like to watch the event.