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Stevenage Borough Council is leading the way with the introduction of a new policy that means developers must improve the local area’s biodiversity.

The policy means that it will be a requirement in planning for developers to improve biodiversity measurably with any new developments in Stevenage. Biodiversity Net Gain is a way to contribute to the recovery of nature while developing land. It makes sure that the habitat for wildlife is in an even better state than it was before development.

This winter, work has started at the first sites in Stevenage. Areas of scrub habitat will be developed around the periphery of Chells Park and Canterbury Way Playing Fields. Scrub refers to areas where grassland is left uncut, allowing woody shrubs – such as hawthorn and blackthorn – and wildflowers and grasses to establish. Scrub is a transitional habitat creating a margin between woodlands and grassland, and as such forms a rich mosaic of habitats that support a wide range of wildlife. These are two of the first sites in the county where planning requirements have been implemented to deliver Biodiversity Net Gain.

Stevenage Borough Council commissioned Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust to develop management plans for the two sites, and has been supported by the trust in the delivery of works this winter.

Councillor Simon Speller, Portfolio Holder for Environment and Climate Change, said:

“It’s fantastic news that this pioneering new policy will have a huge, positive impact on our town and wildlife, and ultimately on our health, while also helping to tackle climate change.

“Encouraging more scrub habitats is crucial for protecting some of the 450 nationally rare and threatened species known to live in this habitat. As our two new scrubs develop, with a bit of luck, you may even be able to see migrant birds such as blackcaps, whitethroat and blue tits all feasting on the insects which live on the scrub.”

Tim Hill, Conservation Manager with Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust said:

“Stevenage Borough Council remains the only local authority in Hertfordshire to have its own Biodiversity Action Plan, written by Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, now in its third iteration since first published in 2010. The scrub and wildflower grassland habitat creation at Chells Park and Canterbury Way will complement the wide variety of wildlife habitats already being cared for and improved by Stevenage Borough Council over the last 13 years, providing a new and valuable resource for nature and residents of Stevenage. With Hertfordshire in the midst of a biodiversity crisis, where 77 species went extinct in the last 50 years, this is vital work to begin nature’s recovery.”

If you’d like to get involved in helping to manage the town’s green spaces, you can become a Green Space Volunteer.

Biodiversity Net Gain is due to become a mandatory part of the planning system when the government implements the policy, and under the Environment Act 2021, all planning permissions granted in England will have to deliver at least 10% Biodiversity Net Gain from 2024.