Defra (the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) and Natural England are working with a consortium led by the University of Oxford to develop the Eco-metric Approach to measure the ability of habitats to deliver ecosystem services. It can be used to measure the net changes in natural capital and the ecosystem services it provides as a result of land-use change or development. Critically it is biodiversity led, with biodiversity net gain a pre-requisite of applying the tool.
The 25 Year Environment Plan states HM Government’s goal of leaving the environment in a better state than we found it. It highlights the opportunity to expand the net gain approaches used for biodiversity to include wider natural capital benefits. A Defra consultation in 2018 led to the announcement in the Chancellor’s Spring Statement that biodiversity net gain will become mandatory for housing and infrastructure development under the Town and Country Planning Act. The eco-metric is a potential future mechanism for delivering natural capital net gains in a way that is underpinned by biodiversity net gain.
The eco-metric works alongside the Defra biodiversity metric, mirroring the approachby applying a matrix of scores for different habitats and ecosystem services, which are modified by multipliers reflecting habitat condition, spatial location, delivery risk, and the time taken for new habitats to reach maturity.
In Phase 1 of the development of the approach, a draft approach was developed. Phase 2 set out to finalise the methodology drawing on the expertise of habitats and ecosystem services specialists. We are developing a spreadsheet tool for data entry that will allow ‘eco-metric’ calculations to be completed in a simple and easy to use format and are testing the tool in a series of pilot projects across England.
We reported on the findings through a webinar hosted by the Ecosystems Knowledge Network on 30th April 2019. The link to a recording of this event is found below.
Natural England expects to publish the Eco-metric decision support tool in the spring of 2021. A Beta version of this voluntary tool will be published on Natural England’s Access to Evidence Forum. The tool will be supported by a range of documentation explaining both its development and use. Natural England will provide more detailed information on timing and trialling the beta eco-metric nearer the time via the Ecosystem Knowledge Network.
Updated January 2021