Infusing Biodiversity Net Gain into the UK Construction Industry

Engineering and construction activities have long been recognised as significant contributors to global biodiversity loss. Infrastructure development often disrupts natural habitats, affects species distributions and can, if poorly managed, lead to a negative net impact on local biodiversity. Roads fragment habitats, leading to the isolation of wildlife populations. Construction projects can pollute water bodies, disrupt soil composition, and result in loss of plant and animal species.

But with new legislation and technological advancements, engineering can transition from being a part of the problem to becoming an integral part of the solution. At renaissance, we’re committed to delivering our work with minimal impact on the environment so biodiversity net gain (BNG) is a subject close to our heart. In this short blog, we’re going to examine the ways in which we as engineers can preserve the biodiversity of the environments we work in.

UK legislation and biodiversity net gain

As per the 2017 UK Environment Act, a concept known as ‘biodiversity net gain’ (BNG) has been legislated, making it mandatory for developers to demonstrate that their projects will improve biodiversity by at least 10%. This process involves calculating a ‘biodiversity value’ both before and after development, thereby ensuring a quantifiable net gain in biodiversity. This policy represents a paradigm shift in planning and development, from simply mitigating biodiversity losses to actively enhancing local ecosystems.

The engineer’s role in promoting biodiversity net gain

Engineers can support biodiversity net gain through innovative design, efficient use of resources, and the adoption of nature-based solutions. Adopting a holistic view of construction, whereby nature is integrated into projects from the outset, could help us redefine the relationship between infrastructure development and biodiversity.

Creating new habitats such as wetlands, ponds and meadows, restoring degraded habitats, and using sustainable materials are a few ways engineers can directly contribute to biodiversity net gain. Moreover, engineers can design infrastructure that connects different habitats and facilitates wildlife movement. For instance, wildlife corridors, which can be as straightforward as bridges over roads or tunnels under railways, can prevent wildlife populations from becoming isolated.

Emerging technologies for biodiversity enhancement

Incorporating emerging technologies and practices like green roofs and walls can also benefit biodiversity. These not only provide habitats for various species but can also help to improve air quality and reduce stormwater runoff. Likewise, designing for water conservation and using renewable energy sources are other ways engineers can ensure their projects are sustainable and ecologically friendly.

Digital tools, such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), can aid in the identification of environmentally sensitive areas and better understanding the potential impacts of a project. Using such insights, we can optimise the location, design, and construction practices of developments to minimise their detrimental ecological footprint.

Castle Irwell – A renaissance case study

The project at Castle Irwell provides a large span of public open space, offering a beautiful green space for households and visitors to enjoy day to day, week to week.

While the space provides a service to residents, one of its primary benefits is the natural habitat it provides for local fauna and flora. Herons, dragonflies and a diverse array of grasses and flowers thrive amongst the green surroundings.

What’s more, this green space also functions as part of the active surface water drainage network on the site while also providing storage provision for extreme flood events.

Castle Irwell is an engineered intervention in a suburban setting that has a natural aesthetic, providing benefit for all and most definitely improving the BNG significantly.

Biodiversity net gain as a shared responsibility

Achieving biodiversity net gain is a shared responsibility. It requires the commitment of all stakeholders, from engineers and contractors to policy-makers and residents. Policies and regulations are vital in setting the right framework and incentives. However, these need to be backed up by a skilled and motivated design team ready to innovate and drive the change.

Driving change through Innovation

Innovation can be the mechanism that propels us towards achieving BNG in the engineering and construction sector. And this is not just about technological innovation, but also social and organisational innovation. Encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration, fostering a culture of continuous learning, and embedding ecological thinking in all aspects of engineering practice are key to this transformation.

Future looking engineering

As we embark on this new era, there’s a palpable excitement about the potential for change. BNG’s time has come. It has the power to redefine our profession and contribute meaningfully to the planet’s health. We need to seize this moment and leverage all the tools, technologies, and knowledge at our disposal to embed BNG within the very DNA of engineering practice. This is a journey of transformation, and it’s one that we need to undertake collectively. Together, we can shape a future where engineering and ecology work hand in hand.