What should be included in a Biodiversity Action Plan and where does natural capital fit in? Laura King outlines the basics.
Imagine a world without insects to pollinate our crops, or one where there were no plants to filter pollutants out of our air, or to help lessen the impact of extreme weather. Our planet would be a very different place and one we almost certainly could not exist in. Nature is fundamental to our very existence, providing numerous benefits and supporting our way of life.
Nature and biodiversity go hand in hand. Biodiversity is, in its simplest sense, the variety of life. It includes all plants and animals, ranging from the common to the rare, and the large down to genetic variations found in DNA. Given the importance of nature, it goes almost without saying that the more biodiverse — ie the more variety found — the better.
What is a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP)?
BAPs are plans developed by organisations to protect and enhance the biodiversity of environments that they have control over. At the heart of the BAP is the recognition that an organisation can have both a positive and negative impact and an ambition to tip the balance in nature’s favour.
BAPs can be pulled together at a number of levels. Site BAPs are unique to individual locations and often form the building blocks of an overall corporate BAP which can cover wider biodiversity-related objectives, aspirations and targets.
Why have a BAP?
Public bodies such as universities and government departments in the UK are legally required to conserve biodiversity. This does not mean that they are obliged to have a BAP, but having one will help them ensure that they are meeting their obligations.
Businesses do not need to specifically consider biodiversity. However, the benefits of doing so are potentially massive, touching almost every aspect of operation from access to capital and new markets, to reputation, future-proofing and protection of assets. Needless to say, biodiversity can be a very good investment.
What should a BAP include?
Habitat and species assessment
At the core of the BAP is an overview of the sites the organisation is responsible for and an evaluation of the types of habitats, plants and animals found there. This is likely to be based on a desk-based exercise which is then used to conduct more specific habitat and species surveys.
Aims, objectives and targets
The BAP should include overall high-level objectives. These then feed into specific aims and targets. For example, if one of the objectives is to improve biodiversity, then there might be several aims sitting under this, for example the adoption of ecologically sympathetic grounds maintenance. This would be demonstrated by targets that could measure outputs (for example, the implementation of new planting schemes) or outcomes (for example, repeat surveys assessing the number of species present on a site).
To put the BAP into context, the aims identified should relate to local BAPs and priorities identified by Local Biodiversity Partnerships, as well as the UK’s 2012 Biodiversity Framework.
To demonstrate a thorough approach, it can be useful to include some information about the methodology adopted when conducting the BAP. As well as the obvious information, also cover more involved processes, for example how priorities have been developed.
Opportunities and risks
Opportunities will be identified as part of developing the BAP, and these should be highlighted to create forward momentum. Conversely, in the spirit of transparency, it is also good practice to include any factors that might affect how well a site can be managed for biodiversity, for example if a site needs a certain amount of hardstanding for parking.
An action plan
The action plan should identify what needs doing, when it should be done by, and any resources required. It can also include a management plan that provides a broad overview of how the BAP will be managed and adhered to within the organisation.
Traditional BAPs often focus on an action plan for habitats and species. However, this might not always be the best approach. For example, if managing biodiversity sits better within specific areas, for example grounds maintenance or business development, it might be a better option to organise the actions according to themes.
Monitoring and continuous improvement
Monitoring is critical if the BAP is to be effective. The initial survey forming the basis of the BAP will often form the baseline from which progress can be assessed.
A BAP also needs to evolve. However, while some actions might show immediate gains, biodiversity by its very nature can take a while to respond, and so consideration needs to be given to timeframes. As such, it is likely that as well as an annual report, overarching BAPs and outcome-based targets may require a much longer 5–10-year reporting cycle.
Links to other documents
To demonstrate that the BAP is fully integrated, show where it relates to other policies, management systems and wider strategies.
Once a BAP has been written up, tell people about it! For particularly complicated BAPs, it can be a good idea to have a summary document that includes the essence of the BAP — useful for those that just want an overview and to hand out at corporate events.
Natural capital and its role
Natural capital can be defined as the stock of natural or environmental assets held by the world. It includes things such as water, air, soils and biodiversity. From these stocks we derive environmental services, such as the provision of food. These “services” are often referred to as ecosystem services.
Increasingly, organisations are looking to put a monetary value on natural capital, often on the premise that if something can be valued, it is easier to include in decision-making. This is known as natural capital accounting.
However, natural capital accounting is notoriously difficult and fraught with difficulties — particularly when considering that simply valuing the “financial” output of nature rarely takes into consideration the intangible or the complex. Because of this, it is a relatively novel approach, and many of the tools needed are either still in development or in the early stages of adoption.
Nonetheless, progress is being made and there are many examples across the UK where natural capital is starting to be valued. For example, metrics exist that show the health benefits (ergo reduced healthcare costs) of living close to a green space, or the benefit of trees to surface water run-off.
An intermediate step towards natural capital accounting is to conduct a natural capital assessment, and a BAP can provide a unique opportunity to do this. A natural capital assessment, or audit, is a much easier exercise as it simply captures the quantity, and where possible, the quality of any natural capital and services provided. This can be a useful starting point and can help an organisation to start down the path towards a more natural capital-orientated approach to managing landholdings and assets.
Biodiversity is critical to the natural functioning of the world and is also an important consideration for all organisations.
A BAP helps an organisation identify what it can do to improve biodiversity within its care. It should not be a standalone document but should be integrated into other corporate strategies.
A good BAP will set overall objectives, with aims and measureable targets. It will be widely communicated and a living document that is monitored and assessed as part of an ongoing process.
A BAP can help an organisation begin to develop its understanding and approach to natural capital.
Last reviewed 30 October 2018