How do we account for biodiversity?

This Sprint ran from April 2022-June 2023

(AdobeStock) A redstart bird perched on a branch in a forest
The UK is making big commitments to restore and protect nature and foster biodiversity.

If the UK is to meet its own and international biodiversity targets, it needs to be able to properly measure the impact of economic development projects on biodiversity. It also needs to be able to deliver social welfare benefits alongside nature restoration, as well as balance trade-offs between commitments to economic development and biodiversity improvements.

The Sprint’s case study area (BBOWT 2022)

This balancing of trade-offs requires an understanding of how to measure biodiversity impacts, and how to balance biodiversity improvements with the social and economic welfare of people affected by them. This will help to enable landscape-scale planning that supports both biodiversity and local communities. This Sprint addressed these questions by exploring four key elements: biodiversity, social welfare, spatial modelling, and scenarios for development.

The Sprint focused on the Bernwood, Otmoor, and Ray region as a case study site. The project area spans the Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire border and is approximately 300km2. It is a landscape where nationally important economic development is taking place, putting the region’s habitats and wildlife at risk. The area project sits entirely within the OxCam Arc for growth and development and holds strong options for further (large scale) habitat improvement.

This Sprint supported an integrated approach to renewing and restoring nature in a socially just way, in the context of economic development activities, working directly with HM Treasury and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Why this Sprint?

The Sprint supported HM Treasury’s Biodiversity Working Group, which is updating (as of 2023) its guidance for the assessment of all public sector spending to account for biodiversity. It will provide the first implementation of this new guidance into practice.

From the Environment Act 2021 to individual commitments made at COP26 in Glasgow, the UK government and businesses are making big commitments to restore and protect nature. A large part of these commitments involves delivering ‘biodiversity net gain’ (BNG) and setting targets to ensure the recovery of Britain’s wildlife species (including the rare bats, birds and butterflies found in our field site). Our Sprint improved our understanding of how to deliver BNG, while respecting local perspectives and enhancing their opportunities to benefit from nature.

This Sprint also followed close on the heels of, and supported the real-world implementation of, the Dasgupta Review into the Economics of Biodiversity, delivered to the Government in February 2021.

nature recovery symposium

There has been a recent surge of interest in the science of nature recovery in the UK, alongside national and international policy pulls. However, there is still much to do if science is to effectively inform decision-making on nature recovery. In this symposium, we brought together researchers working on the science that could underpin planning for nature recovery with decision-makers and practitioners working within government, industry and civil society, to discuss how science could best be deployed to support decisions for nature recovery.

The Nature Recovery Symposium was held in March 2023, and was co-hosted by: The Agile Initiative at the Oxford Martin School, the Leverhulme Centre for Nature Recovery, University of Southampton, University of Exeter, UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and University of Kent.

You can read more details about the symposium in this Report.

Want to know more?

We are building our network of interested researchers from Oxford and beyond, as well as potential policy partners, contact us directly below.

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