To the lay-person’s eye, it may look like just an empty field, but to Network Rail it represents 65 so-called biodiversity units that will prepare the way for a train station in Cambridge.
It’s all to do with biodiversity net gain (BNG); new regulations came into effect this month that require developments to result in at least a 10% net gain in the diversity of wildlife and habitats if they are to be granted planning permission.
That’s easier said than done for some urban developments, so Network Rail has purchased these 65 biodiversity units from Cambridgeshire County Council’s 354-acre ‘biodiversity bank’ at Lower Valley Farm.
Said to be one of the largest such operational facility in England, it is described as a pioneering habitat restoration scheme, which has been designed to provide a solution for developments with off-site biodiversity requirements.
The site in South Cambridgeshire is being transformed from arable farmland into biodiverse habitats that will eventually provide a home for species of conservation concern, such as the Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting.
Councillor Lucy Nethsingha, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, said:“Investing in the natural environment is crucial for a sustainable Cambridgeshire. Our innovative scheme at Lower Valley Farm makes it straightforward for developers unable to offer biodiversity net gain enhancing nature in the local area, through a council-backed scheme.
“On our thoughtfully managed former farmland we will be creating spaces for pollinators by establishing hay meadows, woodland and species rich hedgerows. We look forward to the benefits of botanic diversity and wildlife multiplying, as we craft these new habitats. In time we will also be putting in new paths to open up the area to the public, providing social as well as environmental gains for the local community.”
Delivered in partnership with property consultancy Bidwells, which has been appointed to manage the scheme over the next five years, Lower Valley Farm has been developed to coincide with the introduction of new regulations in January 2024 that will require all developments – whether housing, commercial or infrastructure projects – to produce a biodiversity net gain of at least 10% if they are to be granted planning permission.
The purchase of biodiversity units will be used to offset any biodiversity loss stemming from Network Rail’s Cambridge South Infrastructure Enhancement scheme, which involves the development of a new railway station in South Cambridge.
Roland Bull, partner and head of rural investment at Bidwells, said: “Lower Valley Farm represents just a glimpse into the opportunity off-site habitat creation can offer both developers and local communities. It facilitates the development of this important infrastructure project in the form of Network Rail’s new Cambridge South Station.
“[It] simultaneously goes far beyond the minimum requirements of biodiversity net gain through creating a genuinely biodiverse site that will be conserved and managed for the long-term. At a time when development is urgently needed across both housing and infrastructure, it is vital developers have tools to get projects in motion, and at the same time ensure they are making a positive contribution to local ecosystems.”
Main image: Councillor Lucy Nethsingha, Cambridgeshire County Council, and and Emma Sharpe of Network Rail, at Lower Valley Farm
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