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Morgan Sindall Construction employees walking through Lakenheath RSPB Reserve in Suffolk

What is your strategy for meeting Biodiversity Net Gain goals?

As of February 2024, the UK government will implement new legislation, ensuring that land managers, developers and local planning authorities achieve at least 10% increase in Biodiversity Net Gain, with around 14 Local Authorities already targeting a 20% increase.

In partnership with the Southern Construction Framework (SCF), Tim Clement, director for social value & sustainability for Morgan Sindall Construction, discusses this and the investment in biodiversity already made on several SCF projects in our blog.

The Wildlife Trusts, State of Nature research has reported a 19% decline in the average abundance of wildlife in the UK since monitoring began in the 1970s, with one in six species at risk of being lost.

In the South of England particularly, intense farming of land and areas that are densely populated with towns, cities and people have contributed to this. But the region also has its success stories when it comes to restoration projects - the South Downs, England’s newest national park was designated in March 2010 and since then their #ReNature campaign has seen 4,312 hectares of existing habitat improved for nature – an area bigger than the city of Portsmouth.

The construction industry has a key role to play in recognising its impact on biodiversity, and taking proactive measures to meet the requirements of BNG targets. There are a number of ways we believe we can address this.

Implementing more than traditional solutions

Planters, bug hotels, bird and bat boxes are all great examples of achieving low level biodiversity on site. But they are a sticking plaster on the situation. They offer only a small contribution to what’s needed to achieve both legislative requirements and deliver positive, long-term biodiversity in our communities.

However, when combined with other substantive solutions, can achieve much more. For example, at Bishop’s Waltham Fire Station, bat cavity wall boxes were installed into the structure. However, they were also combined with a green roof featuring a sedum-mix of eight species of plant that will provide foraging grounds for bats in an urban habitat as well as sensitive lighting to ensure the retention of existing bat commuting routes.

Through Morgan Sindall’s social value work, we’ve seen how engaging the next generation in these projects can help to amplify their results.  This was the case with our gardening club at The Core, part of Evelina Children’s Hospital in London, which showcases an easy to access solution that helps young people implement biodiverse habitats in their own homes.

Changing behaviours is the starting point

Our landmark decarbonisation study, the Circular Twin, a collaboration between Morgan Sindall Construction, the National Association of Construction Frameworks (NACF), SCAPE framework, HLM and Lungfish Architects, and engineering consultancy Cundall revealed that true collaboration and ultra-early engagement with the supply chain achieved the best possible results – it showcased behaviours that really challenged traditional learned experience and processes.

It's the tenacity and innovation from this process and looking at how the industry has approached challenges like carbon reduction that will help drive innovative solutions to achieving biodiversity net gain.

So as a business what have we been doing so far?

We’re investing in natural capital

Back in 2021, Morgan Sindall Group sought to identify opportunities to achieve long-term gains for the planet and committed to invest in projects that would enhance natural capital.

The first was the investment in nine new Woodlands and a Forest School at the Blenheim Estate. Planting of the 270,000 trees is largely completed and the project will improve the biodiversity of the area significantly, improving the quality of soil, air, water and biodiversity for years to come.

Later in 2023, the Group launched two further partnerships, the first with the RSPB to restore 54-acres of wetland in Lakenheath. Wetlands are not only one of the best ways to absorb carbon, but projects such as this will also see the development of meadows, reedbeds and marshes to support wildlife – the RSPBs aims is to restore habitats for threatened species like the Booming Bittern.

Lastly, the Group invested in the development and restoration of 300 hectares of severely damaged blanket bog in the North Pennines AONB, UNESCO Global Geopark and the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Eleven sites have already been identified, and the process of rewetting has begun.

Driving towards a nature positive future, boosting biodiversity with large-scale impactful projects, will not only protect wildlife and create a balanced ecosystem, but will also address issues relating to the health and wellbeing of people and food security. It’s these types of projects that will have the greatest long-term value.

We’re addressing skills gaps in biodiversity

Lack of knowledge and experience with changing legislation has always proved to be a challenge. We’ve already delivered intelligent solutions on our projects to achieve some fantastic results for biodiversity net gain. It’s this information that we’ve been sharing with our colleagues nationally at open sessions to discuss their challenges and create conversations between our teams of successful best practice.

Our teams are already setting goals for their projects to achieve % net gain (often above the required 10%) via their sustainability charters and are utilising resources such as our biodiversity toolkit to implement these benefits for our customers.

We're working with a much more diverse supply chain too. For example, at Clive Booth Student Village for Oxford Brookes University, the team are working with specialist landscape architects to ensure we understand and reflect the natural complexity of the existing Headington Hill Conservation Area as part of the completed project. Going as far as splitting a building at the design phase into two separate buildings so as not to disturb high-quality, established trees and planting.

We’re collaborating with our industry partners

We worked closely with the Southern Construction Framework (SCF) in the development of their Biodiversity Net Gain guide, which has been created to support estate managers, public sector consultants, contractors and supply chain partners with everything they need to know to help them prepare for new planning regulations. Including definitions, methodology associated with Biodiversity Net Gain and the relevant themes for BNG at each of the RIBA stages of development.

Adam Sanford – Operations Lead, South East & London said, “It goes without saying that getting a handle on meeting BNG targets needs to include a commitment to gain a full understanding of what’s required as part of the build.  Getting to grips with the requirements can save time and money in the long run before you bring in the experts. It means you’ll be better placed to determine clear and measurable goals.” We are also a part of the Supply Chain Sustainability Schools Nature Recovery Group, so that we can help our Supply Chain to upskill around changes in the legislation and move forwards to more nature positive designs.

Over the coming months we’re looking forward to sharing more exciting news about the work we’re doing to increase biodiversity on our projects, so watch this space.