Over 50 field researched Q&As for landowners, land agents, farmers and others

To help you find our way to Biodiversity Net Gain, we offer a referenced index of questions and answers. If you come across a word you do not fully understand, there is a reference to another paragraph where, hopefully, you will find the answer you need.

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In a recent change to the legislation governing development, developers are legally required (as of 12th February 2024) to achieve a 10% net gain in biodiversity. This means leaving nature in a better state than when the development started. Developers are encouraged to achieve this by providing natural spaces for wildlife within their development sites; however, many developments do not have the space required for this. These developers must therefore balance an overall loss onsite by creating or enhancing habitats offsite; this is called biodiversity offsetting and balances out to produce an overall net gain for nature. This is where we come in: developers without access to off-site land will pay existing landowners to use their land as a biodiversity Offset Site

An Offset Site is an area of land where biodiversity units (See paragraph 5) are produced through habitat creation or enhancement and management for a minimum of 30 years. These biodiversity units are typically used to offset and balance out the loss of biodiversity, e.g. on development sites.

As a very rough estimate, we are usually able to offer between £60,000 – £95,000 per hectare as a fixed minimum payment, spread over a 31-year agreement (See paragraph 14) depending on habitat type; we also provide a 50:50 profit share (See paragraph 21) on all interest gain at the end of the 31-year agreement. In some circumstances, depending on the habitats you have or are willing to create on your land, we are also able to pay significantly more and would be delighted to discuss this in more detail. 

Offset sites need to be managed for 30 years after habitat creation; our schemes therefore typically run for 31-years (See paragraph 14) for the vast majority of habitats.

The unit of measurement used to measure a habitat’s biodiversity. It is calculated by the Biodiversity Metric (a DEFRA tool) based on a habitat’s type, condition and location; all of which must be assessed by a professional ecologist. Buildings and hardstanding typically have zero biodiversity units, ranging up through arable crops and grassland at 2-6 units/hectare right up to our best habitats which can have 20+ units per hectare.

A typical offsetting site will usually produce between two and seven biodiversity units per hectare, depending on habitat type and site-specifics; occasionally, circumstances allow fewer or greater amounts of units per hectare. In our experience as professional ecologists, large scale developments are more likely to be able to balance their books and achieve net gains in biodiversity on site than small developments with limited floorspace. We therefore expect most unit sales to be in the realm of 0 – 5 units per development; with large unit sales being an occasional exception. It’s therefore expected that each offset site will be funded by numerous offsetting agreements with multiple developers. One of our key services to landowners, is shouldering the administrative burden of tracking, contracting and conglomerating all of these agreements into simple batched payments.

The new biodiversity net gain rules and the tools used to calculate biodiversity impact are very effective at steering developers away from impacting rare and high value habitats. The most useful habitats for offsetting are usually meadow grassland, scrub and orchards since these habitats sit well within the context of England’s countryside and they satisfy the trading rules usually needed by developers. Rare and specialist habitats can be useful and can often provide a premium.

Rewilding or wilding involves being as hands off with nature as possible, whereas biodiversity offsetting is usually focused on creating specific habitats in specific places and often managing them very closely. That’s not to say that principles of rewilding can’t work well on offset sites (See paragraph 2). Biodiversity offsetting and rewilding can work together very well, especially on large sites. We have a bespoke approach for creating a habitat restoration project that marries principles of rewilding and biodiversity offsetting; if you’re interested in looking into this, we’ll be delighted to discuss further exactly how this will work.

What is greenwashing?It’s easy to see biodiversity net gain as a way to enable developers to pay to destroy habitats; that’s not the case though. The new laws around biodiversity net gain are an additional legal obligation for developers, they don’t diminish the protection already afforded to our natural spaces and wildlife. The calculations that go into measuring biodiversity impact on development sites take special care to value the unique worth of individual habitat types: for instance, rare habitats must be replaced on a like-for-like basis and the time taken to replace such habitats after they are lost is taken into account. These new laws will actually make it harder for developers to just cut down habitats and recreate them elsewhere: taking woodland as an example, a developer removing 1hectareh of Priority lowland deciduous woodland will now legally need to pay to recreate 6-15 hectares or more, whereas previously they may have been able to get away with just replanting 1 hectare.

We provide an end-to-end service between developers who need to offset and landowners who are willing to use their land as an offset site. Civity takes care of getting everything calculated, formalised, registered and linked up; we also take care of all the initial and ongoing ecological monitoring and advice that underpins these schemes.

We will sign a lease agreement (See paragraph 12) on your land for 31 years (See paragraph14) and make rental payments. We will also sign a habitat management contract (See paragraph 13) with you and pay a management and maintenance fee to create and manage biodiverse habitats on your land (this is where the main income source comes from). Bundled in with the management and maintenance fee will be contingency payments (See paragraph 43). A profit sharing payment (See paragraph 21) will also be paid. The order of events will be as follows:

  1. We work with you to calculate how many biodiversity units you can produce on your land and how much it would cost you to produce these units. The cost is based off of contractor rates for 31 years for things like graziers, hay cuts and fencing. Using that price (alongside legal fees, our fees and contingencies) we calculate a fair price per biodiversity unit produced. At this point, habitat creation works have not started.
  2. We go away and get your site registered and formalised. Once that’s done we begin advertising your biodiversity units to developers. When a developer purchases a biodiversity unit, they are essentially transferring the legal responsibility to create/enhance a certain habitat and then manage it for 30 years. Selling a biodiversity unit is therefore akin to selling a promise to create the relevant habitats and manage them for 30 years.
  3. Once we’ve sold your biodiversity units, we start the clock ticking on the 31 year agreement (See paragraph 14). At this point, we forward the funding over to you to actually start the works on the ground. Landowners don’t need to start work until the money is locked in and secure, so there’s no risk of committing to a project that won’t pay.

 

To make Civity the responsible party for delivering the BNG scheme, we take a lease out on the land in question. The lease is based on a standard farm business tenancy. Typically, this lease will be for 31-years (See paragraph 14).

The Habitat Management Contract is a contractual agreement between Civity and the landowner / land manager. It outlines the necessary management obligations on the land for the course of the 31-year agreement (See paragraph 14) and is how we pay landowners to undertake the specific works required to create the habitats that produce BNG units. The Management Contract is optional (we can take care of management ourselves), but it’s where the big money is for landowners as we pay a deliberately generous rate. Typically, this management contract will be for 31-years.

In accordance with the legislation and government guidance surrounding biodiversity offsetting, habitats used for biodiversity offsetting “must be maintained for at least 30 years following the completion of habitat enhancement works”. Schemes must therefore run for 30 years plus the time taken to actually create the habitats being enhanced (such as ground preparation and planting); this generally ranges from 1-9 months on the habitats we typically create. For the sake of simplicity, we therefore provide funding in our schemes for 31 years.

At the end of the 31-year agreement (See paragraph 14), your responsibilities to manage the habitat with Civity will cease and the land will revert to your total control. It’s our hope that similar schemes will exist to enable continued funding for their ongoing management – certainly many of the habitats we create will have great scope for further enhancement beyond 30 years.

Landowners will receive payments from us (see What payment will I receive? Paragraphs 35, 36 and 40). The payments will start alongside the 31-year (See paragraph 14) scheme and will only commence after developers have bought your biodiversity units. That way, there’s no risk of signing up to a scheme that does not have sufficient funding. It also means the scheme is locked and secured before you commit, so even if the legislation changes a few years after we start the clock ticking, your scheme’s funding will be guaranteed for the full 31 years. It also means we can respond to market rates prior to selling your units (see also – Profit sharingparagraph 21).

Developers pay for biodiversity units where they cannot deliver a biodiversity net gain on their development sites. When a developer buys biodiversity units from a landowner, they are buying a commitment from that landowner to create a specific amount of a habitat type and manage it in a certain way for 30 years. The cost of a biodiversity unit that a developer buys includes three components:

The developer’s money goes into a protected account (See paragraph 20) to protect it and ring-fence it from being spent elsewhere. This is to meet a requirement of biodiversity offsetting schemes: that the money must be secured for the full length of the Habitat Management and Monitoring Plan (HMMP) (See paragraph 27). Over the course of the 31-year agreement (See paragraph 14), payments to the landowner will be made from this pot, drawing down from it at preset intervals (see also Where does the money come from? – paragraph 17).

Contingency payments are a part of the management and maintenance payment we make to landowners. They are a payment kept in reserve for rectifying failures – such as if planted trees die or if fencing needs repairing and replacing during the 31-year agreement. If the contingency funds are never needed, they are paid out at the end of the agreement alongside the profit share (See paragraph 21).

When developers buy biodiversity units from Civity, they are essentially paying for 31 years of habitat creation, management and monitoring up front. With Civity’s model, this amount is held in a protected account; yearly payments to the landowner are then drawn down from this account. This satisfies financial forecasting requirements of biodiversity offsetting schemes (which require a mechanism for ensuring money does not run out partway through a project), and provides the opportunity to realise income from interest payments via a managed low-risk investment fund; any accrued interest goes into Civity’s profit share payment (See paragraph 21). The money within the account is protected and cannot be withdrawn for other projects or to pay other parties, it is guaranteed and earmarked for the timeframe of each specific project – even if Civity ceases trading.

Civity aims to be transparent and fair: if we are able to save costs or the market price for biodiversity units increases, we will share in this extra profit with the landowners doing the work on the ground. As part of the rules and best practice guidelines governing biodiversity offset schemes, each scheme must provide evidence of sufficient financial forecasting; i.e. you have to prove that the scheme won’t run out of money at some point during the 30 years of ongoing management after the habitats are created. Civity achieves this by building the full 30 years of management and predicted costs into the cost of each biodiversity unit, taking yearly inflation (See paragraph 22) into account; that way, the full fund and predicted expenses are effectively paid upfront by the developer in ‘Year 0’, then the payments made to landowners on a yearly basis are drawn down from that amount. Meanwhile, the remainder of the money sits in a protected account (See paragraph 20); we will provide a 50:50 profit share (See paragraph 21) on all interest accrued and leftover funds within the account at the end of the 31-year agreement.

We allow for inflation in our rental and management payments by applying a flat yearly increase to the payments based on the last 10 year’s average inflation rate. See also – How do my payments work? (See paragraph 16).

Yes! Firstly, the faster we can get your units sold, the faster the money comes to you. Also, if you put us in touch and it leads to a unit sale, we will pay a commission fee for making the introduction of 0.75% of the total sale value of biodiversity units (See paragraph 5), up to a total payment of £20,000.

On the vast majority of sites, there will only be two payments needed from the landowner to Civity: a payment for an initial scoping assessment (See paragraph 25), and a payment for a detailed Habitat Management and Monitoring Plan (HMMP) (See paragraph 27). After these two payments, Civity shoulders the cost of producing full legal documents, liaising with local authorities, registering your site and advertising your biodiversity units for sale. Once your units are sold, we will also refund the cost of your payments for the scoping assessment (see below) and HMMP.

This is our first stage of surveys and calculations. We assess the current on your site. This allows us to model various scenarios for habitat creation and enhancement, with reference to your desires and plans for the land. Our output from this assessment will be a list of suitable habitats, rough management requirements, and a per hectare approximate funding offer (See paragraph 26). We will also create a hypothetical optimal layout for your site, where we present what we feel to be the best layout of habitats to create/enhance at your land based on:

The main purpose of the initial scoping assessment is to give you an idea of roughly how much money your land could earn through biodiversity offsetting and provide a starting block for you to pick and choose which habitats and areas you are interested in exploring such a scheme on at your land.

The approximate funding offer is provided as part of our initial scoping assessment (See paragraph 25). It outlines, on a per hectare basis, how much we will be able to fund for different habitat types, it will also come with an approximate prediction of the profit share (See paragraph 21) payment available based predominantly on an illustration of current interest rates. The approximate funding offer is designed to help you choose which habitat types you are interested in exploring on your site. The offer is reasonably robust, usually to the nearest £100/hectare. A full detailed financial offer (See paragraph 28) requires a fixed layout and production of a HMMP (See below).

A Habitat Management and Monitoring Plan (HMMP) is produced after the initial scoping assessment (See paragraph 25). The HMMP is based on a fixed proposal layout for the exact habitats you have chosen to create on specific parts of your land. HMMPs are detailed documents outlining the precise works required to deliver the biodiversity units specified on an offsetting site over the course of our 31-year scheme period. The HMMP follows a template set out by Natural England and will detail the: habitat creation specifications, yearly habitat management specifications, start and end dates, responsible parties, and ecological monitoring requirements. Once the HMMP has been written, we can calculate and provide a detailed financial offer.

A detailed financial offer is provided alongside the HMMP (See paragraph 25). It outlines the schedule and precise amount for minimum fixed payment that landowners will receive over the 31-year period. It also comes with an illustration of the potential profit share payment (See paragraph 21) along with an adjustable rate so you can see how this payment will perform based on different interest rates. Essentially, the detailed financial offer is a more precise and robust version of the approximate funding offer (See paragraph 26) provided alongside the initial scoping assessment (See paragraph 25).

Yes, we will identify any areas during our scoping assessment that are not suitable for biodiversity offsetting. We will always try to identify any showstoppers before charging to come to site; if any showstoppers are identified, we’ll let you know ASAP and will only charge the minimum amount for ‘time spent’. Land may be unsuitable for a number of reasons, such as:

There is an overlying constraint to management at the site, for instance the site supports a lake, and the only way to enhance that lake is by reducing pollution levels, but the lake is fed by a polluted stream for which the landowner has no control over.

Generally, we require 6 hectares or more to keep the schemes financially viable due to economies of scale. Smaller sites can sometimes work, particularly where they are unique or rare habitats present, but will need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

No. Provided it’s a large enough area to be financially viable, you can sign as much or as little of your land up to a scheme with us as you please. Our aim is to be as flexible as possible and work together with landowners in a partnership.

No. As part of our agreement with you, we will agree what the minimum parcel size is to trigger the start of a 31-year agreement (See paragraph 14). Usually, we’ll agree to fund schemes on a field-by-field basis. We will take care of bundling up multiple sales to developers so you don’t have to split up fields into several small pockets with different start dates.

When it comes to funding, for large schemes we usually provide the funding on a per-field basis so we might stagger start dates across fields depending on how quickly your units sell. See also – Will I need to portion my land up into lots of tiny parcels (See paragraph 32)

This is paid by the developers as part of the unit sales. There is no ongoing payment to Civity from the landowner once a deal is signed and habitat creation begins. We remain committed to the project, undertaking extensive ecological monitoring and providing ongoing expert advice at no expense to the landowner.

See also Where does the money come from? Paragraph 17. Just like the landowner’s money, Civity’s portion of the payment made by developers will also be secured and drawn down on over the 31 years to fund our continued involvement with the project.

Once your biodiversity units are sold, you will receive payments throughout the course of the 31-year agreement (e.g. yearly), in advance of the habitat creation and management works; the precise payment spacing and terms will be specified in our contract together, usually based around yearly payments.

Landowners do not need to begin habitat creation and management until Civity have found developers to fund the project; once found, the developers pay the full 31 years’ cost upfront. Therefore, the money is guaranteed because it is all accounted for and secured before you start. During the project term, the money is held in a protected account (See paragraph 20) and cannot be removed for other projects or payees – even if Civity ceases trading.

With Civity’s model, the money is secured and guaranteed upfront prior to starting the 31-year project. This means that even if the legal requirement for developers to achieve Biodiversity Net Gain gets cancelled partway through the 31-year agreement, your money and your ongoing project will still stand.

Typically, the minimum fixed payment that landowners will receive will amount to 50-65% of the unit price, with the remainder covering legal fees, registration fees, monitoring and brokerage. We will be fully transparent with you on percentages and amounts based on the specifics of your site. On top of the minimum, there will also be an additional profit share payment (See paragraph 21).

The market is still establishing and unit prices typically vary from £20,000 – £45,000; specialist / rare unit types usually require bespoke pricing. Biodiversity Net Gain should be about maximising investment in nature, rather than adding arbitrary costs to much-needed development. Therefore, we base our unit prices on the specific cost of creating them; generally, we aim to sit within the range of £30,000-£35,000 per unit. We will be fully transparent with you on the amount your units are sold for and the percentages each party takes based on the specifics of your site.

You will receive four guaranteed minimum payments and two potential payments on top of that:

Profit sharing payment (See paragraph 21): if we are able to sell units for higher than predicted, or incur less expenses than predicted, we will share the profit with you.

The landowner retains all rights to any and all other income sources the land can generate, provided it does not work against the biodiversity targets in the HMMP (See paragraph 27). Civity’s agreement with the landowner will only extend to income from biodiversity units specifically.

If we are able to sell units for higher than the minimum rate agreed in our contract with you, we will share the profit. This profit sharing is something that will be built into the contractual agreement made between you and Civity.

The contingency payment is a payment made in addition to the habitat creation and management payments. It is essentially an extra portion of those payments that is held back for emergency use or to cover to cost of replacing failures which can reasonably be expected. For example: not all saplings that are planted will survive even if well-cared for, the contingency payment is there to fund replacement of these expected failures. The contingency funding (See paragraph 19) is also there to fund things like replacement fencing, which is required for the full 31 years but often installed with materials only rated for 20 years. If never needed, the contingency funding is paid out in full towards the end of the agreement.

The money is held in a protected account (See paragraph 20) so it is secure for the length of the 31-year agreement (See paragraph 14) and creates an opportunity for additional income from interest that it may earn.

The money for habitat management will be protected in the event that Civity ceases trading. There will also be contingencies in place for the money that is earmarked for Civity’s ongoing involvement with each project. If Civity ceases trading, the money that was earmarked for us to do ecological monitoring and provide ongoing advice will instead be paid to the landowner so they can hire a new ecologist. This means that the biodiversity units we have sold to developers will still be delivered, landowners will still be paid, and all obligations will be met – no liability will fall back onto developers if Civity ceases trading.

Payment is secured upfront from developers to fund 31 years (See paragraph 14) of habitat creation, management and monitoring. Therefore, we allow for inflation (2.56% a year) in our calculations to ensure sufficient funding is provided.

No, this is something that we will pay as part of the creation payment (see also What payments do I receive? – see paragraph 40).

We will pay based on discrete parcels as they are brought forwards for habitat creation and management. Usually, we will pool payments together for one field at a time to avoid dealing with several anniversaries within the same field. The exact timing and split of payments across larger sites is something we can agree together as part of our contracts with you.

Yes, farms receiving BPS can still be used for biodiversity offsetting schemes. (See also: additionality, paragraph 52)

Maybe, on a case-by-case basis and subject to further clarification by DEFRA and Natural England. Stewardship payments (and similar funding) may be eligible for stacking (See paragraph 51) with biodiversity offsetting; further guidance from DEFRA and Natural England will be published in due course. For now, and for the sake of robustness, we assume they cannot be stacked until told otherwise categorically. Any scheme we design with you in the meantime will need to satisfy the rules for ‘Additionality’ (See paragraph 52); this may mean waiting until stewardship schemes end, designing schemes to work adjacent to existing stewardship payments, or applying an adjustment value to the number of biodiversity units produced. For now, our approach is to secure biodiversity offsetting scheme first, then treat any additional funding that can be stacked onto it as a potential cherry on top once DEFRA and Natural England have clarified their position. See also – Who gets the rights to any additional funding? Paragraph 41.

Nutrient neutrality payments can be stacked with biodiversity offsetting payments, the extent to which they can be stacked must be assessed on a case-by-case basis and there will need to be a clear distinction between the start and end dates, obligations, and funding for each scheme. Rules and guidance around stacking other revenue sources such as carbon credits are currently being produced so it’s not known exactly to what extent, if at all, these will be able to stack. See also – Additionality – paragraph 52.

Additionality is one of the requirements of biodiversity offsetting schemes. To satisfy this requirement, any gain in biodiversity units must be over and above any gain from actions that are funded by other schemes. This is primarily to avoid double-counting. This doesn’t mean that two sources of funding cannot stack, just that the ‘before’ value must be carefully determined before measuring biodiversity net gain; this is something we can talk you through in detail based on the specifics of your site.

Yes. Provided that the actions you take on the land do not work against the goals set out in our HMMP (See paragraph 27), you are able to generate money through other revenue streams on the same land as biodiversity offsetting. For instance, the land may still have a limited agricultural output potential: such as hay or fruit production; the habitats you create with us may also be usable for eco-tourism, venue hire or camping, and it may be possible to stack biodiversity offset funding with similar schemes like nutrient neutrality funding. See also – What is stacking (paragraph 51), and Who gets the rights to any additional funding? (paragraph 41)

For failures that can reasonably be predicted (such as expected failures in planting rates), Civity will provide contingency payments (See paragraph 19) for rectification. For failures where no-one is at fault, such as ‘acts of God’, the focus will be on insurance claims and ‘reasonable efforts’ to rectify (in consultation with the local authority or responsible body) rather than fines and punishment; Civity will be the responsible party for delivering this in these instances. Rest assured, the habitats we propose are robust and carefully planned so failures will be rare.

The majority of our schemes comprise: hay meadows, pastural grassland, orchards, dense scrub, scattered trees, wetland and hedgerows. This is just a start though, there are myriad different habitats that you can have on site to create BNG units and we’ll tailor our suggestions to the specifics of your land and your requirements. There’s also lots of opportunities for improving existing habitats your site might already support as well.

To set up an offset site (See paragraph 2) with a landowner/land manager, there will be three main agreements with Civity:

Responsible Bodies are empowered through the Environment Act as independent organisations to review and enforce biodiversity offsetting projects via Conservation Covenants; more information on these can be found on the relevant gov.uk webpages. In areas where Conservation Covenants and/or Responsible Bodies are not present, Local Planning Authorities will usually take the role of oversight and enforcement via a Section 106 Agreement.

After the agreement ends, your obligations for specific management on the land will end and full control of the land will revert back to you. What happens next is up to you; no-one can predict the future, but we’ll make sure to discuss the long-term constraints and opportunities of each potential habitat with you to make sure that what you create is suitable for your long-term plan for the land.