Wildflower Meadows and Biodiversity Net Gain
Biodiversity Net Gain ("BNG") is finally upon us. As usual with these schemes it's been subect to revision and, even now, there are areas of uncertainty about it. Will the metric used to measure biodiversity units change again? How will HMRC view farmland given over to biodiversity units? How will it continue to work with other subsidies and credits? Will reporting requirements change?
A Bit of Background
Despite all this, it seems BNG is here to stay. For the uninitiated, from 12th February 2024 (or 2nd April for small sites) property developers are required to show a 10% net gain in biodiversity over 30 years as a consequence of their development . The plan to do this is submitted as part of the planning process as a Biodiversity Gain Plan (a "BGP". Of course it is.). Oh - and there are different requirements for small and larger developments. Once you've worked out how many credits you'll need (i.e. the value of what you're destroying plus 10%), you need to work out how to create them. These can be on-site (preferred) or off-site, which are given less weight the further from the site they are. Remote habitat creation is weighted according to the priorities of the Local Nature Recovery Scheme. If even this isn't possible, the government is supposed to be creating credits you can buy, representing environmental improvements which it itself has made. With me so far?
Even if you buy into the idea it's fraught with complication and difficulty, as suggested by the number of BNG consultants who have sprung up.
I'm sure the unscrupulous will have a field day, but for those genuinely interested this does represent an opportunity to create something meaningful. Wildflower meadows (species rich grassland) are one of the habitats which will give you BNG credits, for example. As we all know, they're all but extinct in the UK, and brilliant for not only biodiversity, but also for flood control and as resilient carbon sinks. We've already been involved in several well executed net gain meadow projects
This is pretty exciting commercially for clients as well as in terms of habitat creation, particularly as BNG credits can be stacked with other payments. You could also claim a subsidy for nutrient mitigation, for example. BNG also works with the current Countryside Stewardship scheme - ask your land agent or consultant. Natural England have a helpful introduction to it too.
The hay from your wildflower meadow is likely to be highly nutritious for livestock, which can graze them over the winter months. The hay is also a high yielding feedstock for biodigestors - and so much less damaging than maize. Green hay is also helpful for anyone local starting their own meadow, and the seed can be harvested, cleaned and sold commercially - let us know if you have any!
Let's Do It Right
It's important for many of these reasons to use a really good quality wildflower meadow seed mix if you're going to establish one for Biodiversity Net Gain. Don't be tempted to buy a cheap mix including imported wildflower seed, or agricultural cultivars, or with a low % of wildflowers:grasses. Worst of all, some "wildflower" mixes include non-native species. It's been a long standing bugbear of ours that the wildflower seed industry in the UK has been so badly regulated that this kind of thing happens all the time.
Doing it right isn't specified within the scheme, but it's implied. Sites are monitored over time and required to show a minimum number of species. There's a specified "time to target condition". This might not be very onerous, but clearly the beter quality, more floral and diverse the seed mix you use, the more likely you are to hit it. From our point of view, it's super encouraging that the metric relating to species rich grassland is based on an output, rather than, for example, the specifications we're often faced with when trying to supply solar farm developers.
Competently prepped, sown and managed* it would be very odd not to meet those targets using the mixes we sell. I'm thinking particularly about those seed mixes harvested from existing sites. These typically have something like a 50% wildflower element, although they're not factors more expensive than the "off the shelf" mixes with only 10%-30%. Direct harvest mixes have a tremendous diversity of species - up to 40 or 50. You can't say exactly what's going to be in them to the nearest %, but you can guarantee they won't include any agricultural cultivars, many of which won't persist beyond a few years, or perncious weeds. As for the grasses, they won't have anything other than native meadow grasses.
I'd say the same for other habitat features in the scheme. Appropriately selected Hedge whips and woodland plants are going to be quicker to establish, more resilient and more helpful for local biodiversity if they're well planted and managed. Not just that, but grown if not locally, in the UK from UK origin seed - like all the native plants we sell.
As with all good quality UK origin plant material, none of this - seed or plants - is available in huge quantities. Ask us about your plan well ahead of delivery. We've been working with the leading harvesters in the country since 2008, so we know what we're doing.
*we can help with this too!