Biological diversity, or biodiversity, is the scientific term for the variety of life on Earth. It refers not just to species but also to ecosystems and differences in genes within a single species. Everywhere on the planet, species live together and depend on one another. Every living thing, including man, is involved in these complex networks of interdependent relationships, which are called ecosystems.
Healthy ecosystems clean our water, purify our air, maintain our soil, regulate the climate, recycle nutrients and provide us with food. They provide raw materials and resources for medicines and other purposes. They are at the foundation of all civilisation and sustain our economies. It's that simple: we could not live without these “ecosystem services”.
However, despite its critical importance, biodiversity across the world, and within the UK, is in significant decline. It is estimated that more than one in ten (15%) of the UK’s wildlife species is at risk of extinction, and the numbers of the nation’s most endangered creatures have plummeted by two-thirds since 1970. The abundance of all wildlife has also fallen, with one in six animals, birds, fish and plants having been lost.
There are, of course, a wide range of causes of biodiversity loss, such as pollution, intensive farming practices, climate change, the introduction of invasive species, and population growth. However, it is not all doom and gloom, and steps can be taken to both protect against biodiversity loss and to proactively reverse and improve levels of biodiversity. The “planning system” (i.e. the policies that guide decisions on what developments can happen, where and how), can play a huge role in supporting biodiversity, and that is why it has emerged as a key priority within Moreton-in-Marsh’s emerging Neighbourhood Plan.
Through a Neighbourhood Plan, policies can be developed to provide protection for key areas of land that may be rich in biodiversity, or play a key role in supporting biodiversity in the town. It can include policies to encourage more energy efficient new buildings, and to encourage and support more sustainable modes of travel to reduce the use of car within the town. It can also take advantage of new legislation that is being developed by the UK Government through the new Environment Act to require “Biodiversity Net Gain” through future developments.
The principle of Biodiversity Net Gain is simple – any new developments must lead to an overall increase in biodiversity. Biodiversity net gain requires developers to ensure habitats for wildlife are enhanced and left in a measurably better state than they were pre-development. They must assess the type of habitat and its condition before submitting plans, and then demonstrate how they are improving biodiversity – such as through the creation of green corridors, planting more trees, or forming local nature spaces. Green improvements on site will be encouraged, but where they are not possible, developers will need to pay a levy for habitat creation or improvement elsewhere. Through the Moreton-in-Marsh Neighbourhood Plan, we can develop ideas and projects that would help increase biodiversity within the town, and then use funding from developers to make these happen. Ideas already discussed include a community orchard, planting of wildflowers, and enhancements to existing green corridors.
As we develop the Moreton-in-Marsh Neighbourhood Plan, we would love to hear your ideas and thoughts about how we could protect and improve biodiversity within the town. Please let us know your thoughts by contacting us directly or engaging in the various consultation activities and surveys that will be ongoing as we develop the plan.