A Podcast Interview with Dr Julia Baker, Biodiversity Specialist Balfour Beatty

It was a pleasure to speak with Dr Julia Baker during the CIEEM conference in Reading. Dr Baker has been instrumental in producing the new guidance and key principles on achieving biodiversity net gain which has now become mandatory following a recent government announcement.

Whilst we may consider the guidance mostly for larger scale sites, Julia , in her presentation to conference shared her 3 top tips which included the use of specific technical note 2 in the guide on achieving net gain in smaller developments. We often see that there is a disparity amongst the developers dependant on size as to their ability to create viable landscapes and we welcome this technical support for them. Julia also refers to the fact that we cant distill net gain into a single number when we design for net gain. This is very true and ‘we want the number to support and encourage creativity when designing sites and creating the biodiverse developments for future generations.

Julia provides a fantastic insight into what biodiversity net gain is, the way legislation and policy is changing to support the move towards leaving every site better than we found it. She covers all angles from delivering with local authorities and using robust evidence bases to the importance of highways and railway networks in achieving net gain.

It was a uniquely insightful experience to spend a day with experts in this important field. Although we focus here on biodiversity net gain, as we heard from speakers at the conference ‘environmental net gain’ is also a phrase we should be utilising and considering much more. Although metrics are useful we mustn’t lose site of the true social value of biodiversity and one speaker from Mott MacDonald said, there is a danger in ecology economics. We cant use cost/benefit approaches in a world where this could yield a result where there was an economically beneficial optimum level of pollution for example. Numbers aren’t everything. People and wildlife should be central. Some of the most enriching talks, notably from Dr Henry Grub from the University of Oxford, emphasised using successful stakeholder engagement to communicate the true value of net gain.

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