WSP, Ecosystems Knowledge Network, and Northumbria University have launched a new net gain measurement tool to help built environment professionals play a greater part in nature recovery and climate resilience

The Nature Assessment Tool for Urban and Rural Environments (the NATURE Tool) records the extent to which any new infrastructure or development project delivers ‘net gains’ for the natural environment.

The NATURE Tool is there to inform design, planning and long-term management. The spreadsheet tool, which is freely available, has been designed to serve a wide range of projects, from housebuilding to transport infrastructure, and from mineral sites to wind farms.

Tool trials

As part of the development and testing of the NATURE Tool, a partnership across the UK was established with more than 30 built environment organisations including developers, landowners, LPAs, planning professions, NGO’s and Government Agencies.

One of these companies was National Grid:

National Grid trialled the NATURE Tool on two Electricity Transmission schemes in South Wales and the Peak District to assess the reinstatement, mitigation and habitat enhancement actions planned onsite and offsite.

Chris Plester, sustainability specialist at National Grid, said: “Over the last few years there have been many different approaches and tools developed to measure and monitor ecosystem service change, developed by a range of stakeholders for a multitude of reasons.

“It can be a challenge to know the right approach to use. An industry standard, such as the NATURE Tool, will provide a definitive way forward and ‘Go to’ tool that could be adopted by developers and accepted by planners, regulators and policymakers. It is important for us and our peer organisations to adopt a consistent methodology and approach.

“We found the tool was relatively straightforward to complete particularly having detailed habitat information pre and post-development already available.

“The result summary results section provides a good picture of gains and losses across the range of ecosystem services whilst the headline results are a simple and effective way to demonstrate achievement of objectives and benefits for biodiversity and people.

‘’We would be most likely use the NATURE Tool during the detailed design process as a part of the development of our environmental net gain strategies and to support delivery of our corporate commitments to enhance our natural assets in the future.’’

‘Leaving the environment in a better state for the next generation’

Dr Oliver Hölzinger, associate at WSP and creator of the NATURE Tool, commented: “Responding to government policy ambitions and applying our industry expertise, we are delighted to have developed this new tool to aid the built environment sector to collectively achieve ambitions to leave the environment in a better state for the next generation through adopting a natural capital approach to environmental net gain.

“The NATURE Tool is practical and easy to use allowing the assessment of up to 17 ecosystem services plus physical and mental health benefits through a scoring system indicating both, the direction and magnitude of project impacts. These scores are aggregated based on policy priorities resulting in an overall ‘people score’ for the project.

“This assessment aims to encourage both better decision making and clearly demonstrate the results of positive sustainable action during development.”

For more information about the NATURE tool visit www.NATURE-Tool.com where users can download the most current version of the tool.

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