Game changer with 'net gain in biodiversity'

John Box | 25 Nov 2014 | Comments

Eco Futures

At an ecology conference recently in Edinburgh, while the presentations were on a wide variety of topics, I was struck by the common theme of environmental change. Changes from small developments, from infrastructure projects, from new ways of managing river catchments, from analysing the many species in an insect trap using just a DNA analyser. I am reminded of the business adage that says: “change is inevitable, how do we make the most of it?” Change is normal in our lives and our work – and in all organisations. It is just that businesses accept these changes more readily and deal with the consequences faster than the public or the voluntary sector.

What is the relevance of this to the environment, and indeed to ecology? The Infrastructure Projects division of Network Rail that deals with infrastructure renewals and enhancements has generated a powerful objective in their five year business plan – to make a net positive contribution to biodiversity in the UK. This is sustainable development in action. The famous three-legged stool of economic growth, social equality and environmental protection was first propounded by the Brundtland Commission in Our Common Future way back in 1987. This approach underpins the ecosystem approach set out more recently, which promotes the idea that we should place values on the benefits and services we derive from the environment and from biodiversity.

If Network Rail Infrastructure Projects can have such a demanding objective, and I am sure other major corporates are thinking along the same lines – who then is the custodian of the environment? Not just the public sector regulators, but also the private sector driven by their shareholders on the one hand and their staff on the other.

The public will benefit from such dramatic changes. The public that includes you, me and everyone who needs a daily dose of nature for the health and well-being of us all. Let’s have more business plans that commit to no net loss of biodiversity. This will require the regulators to catch up with those who are leading this particular tectonic shift. We are moving from accepting environmental damage to repairing the environment and even to biodiversity gains.

This will have an impact in so many different ways: green bridges, green walls and green roofs; blue and green infrastructure; sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS) and much more. Engineers and architects, planners and urban designers will now have a real goal to aim for. Landscape designers and ecologists will have to understand the language of engineers and architects. There is no longer a need to be concerned about whether one newt or one reptile or one badger could be harmed by a new development or by an infrastructure project. All projects will now have to have biodiversity gains built in from the start. What a game changer! And from such a simple phrase, “make a net positive contribution to biodiversity.”