Biodiversity net gain is the key for future of land management - Nick Hesford

Anyone involved in land and wildlife management will have heard the term ‘biodiversity net gain’ and it’s gaining increasing traction with policy makers in recent years. Broadly, ‘biodiversity net gain’ is an approach to land management that leaves our wildlife and habitats in a better state than before - an approach that is at the heart of what the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) does. The Trust has been at the forefront of promoting best practice game and wildlife management as a force for nature conservation and environmental improvement on farmland, woodland, moorland and wetland for over 80 years. Our aim is to produce a thriving countryside rich in game and wildlife.

Through our research, GWCT has demonstrated that good management of our countryside can lead to tangible knock-on benefits for a wide range of wildlife. Managed moorland, for example, supports significantly higher numbers of red listed wading birds, like lapwing and curlew, compared with unmanaged moorlands. Counter to popular narrative, species such as mountain hare are also up to 35 times more abundant in these managed environments. In the lowlands, our approach to sustainable land management similarly demonstrates improved species diversity as a result of habitat creation for pheasant and partridge. In short, our research demonstrates that sympathetic management of working land can significantly increase biodiversity, often above that of dedicated conservation nature reserves, while being part of important cultural and economic landscapes.Until recently, much of wildlife management has been conducted based on practical knowledge, often handed down from generation to generation. While this includes a rich bank of pragmatic custom and practice, sometimes outcomes can be sub-optimal and lack the auditable, evidence-based approach required in modern land management. Twinned with our science based ‘Best Practice with Proof’ approach it is clear that significant biodiversity gains could be made, particularly where current land management practices are not delivering the potential for positive biodiversity outcomes.The GWCT’s Biodiversity Assessment Service helps farms, estates, and wildlife managers highlight where current management is benefitting biodiversity, identify where there is potential for negative impacts on wildlife, and promote practical solutions and remedial actions. Delivering net biodiversity gain must work for the practitioner as much as it does for the politicians and conservation NGOs.

We take a holistic view on assessing biodiversity. Our assessments are tailored to the individual requirements of each estate, farm or shoot providing a qualitative ecological appraisal of habitats and their condition whilst identifying areas of good practice and making recommendations for future improvements.

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We identify those species and habitats already supported by current management and then outline what wildlife could be encouraged through adopting small changes in the future. As every farm or estate is different, our level of input can vary from broad ecological appraisals to providing support with long-term biodiversity monitoring and habitat impact assessments. But, our aim in each case is to work with landowners and managers to provide evidence of good practice and to help produce an action plan for future conservation management.

It is likely that future financial support for the land and wildlife management sector, particularly in the form of public payments from Scottish Government, will be conditional on demonstrating the outcomes of good practice. In a climate where land and wildlife managers are facing increasing political pressure and scrutiny ‘Best Practice with Proof’ will have increasing relevance, and the ability to demonstrate ‘Biodiversity Net Gain’ will be an essential element of future-proofing within our rural sector.

Dr Nick Hesford, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

For further information please contact Dr Nick Hesford at [email protected]

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