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Offshore development provides an opportunity to enhance our biodiversity

Published on 19 March 2024

Considerations around Biodiversity are being increasingly integrated into construction projects on and offshore with governments around the world seeing them as an opportunity to enhance our environment.

In February, new rules were introduced in England which now require construction projects to deliver a 10% net gain for biodiversity. But what does this mean for offshore development?

In this article, we explore what terms like Biodiversity Net Gain and Marine Net Gain mean and share an informative case study of an international project which mapped out biodiversity in the North Sea.

IMCA Contact

Mary Ntamark
Technical Adviser – Environmental Sustainability

What is Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG)?

Put simply, it is the expectation that any construction or development project should leave the affected environment in a measurably better state than before the project was undertaken.

This could be in terms of its wildlife, habitats, or ecosystems.

Recent legislation introduced in England on 12 February 2024 outlined an expectation for developers to create new habitats or enhance existing ones in any development. The new rules require construction projects on land to result in a 10% gain for biodiversity.

Besides onshore construction and property development, the rules could also apply to near-shore building projects – for port developments for example.

It is expected that the new requirements in England will mean the emergence of a “BNG marketplace” with developers working closely with environmental and wildlife charities to invest in nature restoration.

What is Marine Net Gain?

Marine Net Gain takes BNG as a concept and applies it to projects at sea. Given the challenges of construction in the marine environment, it means a slightly different approach to BNG, with more offsetting or compensation falling outside the boundaries of developments.

How construction will be offset is likely to differ depending on the jurisdiction and in the UK, the Government is currently consulting on how Marine Net Gain principles could work in England. It is expected to publish its findings soon.

Case study: North Sea Net Gain

An international consortium recently came together to explore biodiversity in the North Sea. The multi-year study aimed to provide the evidence to guide decisions on the next generation of offshore wind farms and ensure that the investment currently being made in renewable wind energy also creates opportunities to enhance our biodiversity.

Funded by the Crown Estate’s £25 million investment into its Offshore Wind Evidence and Change Programme (OWEC), and by the Rich North Sea programme, it was delivered through international collaboration between the UK Government’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) and Flemish marine research organisation the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ). The project advisory group included members from Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

Data collected by industry, government, and academic sources across seven countries were brought together into a central data set containing almost 50,000 seabed samples with over 1.4 million records, and state-of-the-art modelling techniques used to map benthic (or seafloor) biodiversity across international boundaries.

The results have been shared in two freely available online apps. The OneBenthic Data Extraction Tool provides developers, regulators, and decision makers with access to the enhanced big data collected by the study. The OneBenthic Layers Tool provides access to benthic biodiversity models developed under this and other research projects. A report on the study has also been produced.

IMCA’s Life Below Water workgroup, part of the Environmental Sustainability Committee, will be sharing more information for Members on this topic and how it potentially impacts global offshore developments soon.

This will include exploring case studies and best practice from around the globe, as well as insight from a range of expert organisations in this space.

Mary Ntamark is Technical Adviser – Environmental Sustainability at IMCA.