Green financing

The value of ecosystems has fallen outside our current economic framework – but Nick Heasman, South Downs National Park Authority’s Countryside and Policy Manager, has a plan to change that.

A scheme to restore biodiversity and deliver nature-based climate action has been launched by the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA). It comes as the compliance and offsetting market widens significantly this year with the introduction of the Environment Act 2021 and mandatory biodiversity net gain from November 2023 for most types of development.

Launched two years ago, the SDNPA’s ReNature project aims to create 13,000 hectares of land for biodiversity restoration and new wildlife habitat.

Nutrient credits and biodiversity units are not new in the planning world, but they often don’t have a joined-up approach that delivers nature benefits at a landscape scale. This is where ReNature Credits are different.


ReNature Credits bring together developers and landowners to unlock private finance streams to support nature recovery, including restoring lost habitats, woodland creation and wildflower meadows. As a national park covering 1,600km2 and with more than 1,000 different landowners, we can identify the very best areas for biodiversity restoration and ensure habitat connectivity that will deliver tangible, long-term benefits for both nature and people.

Following a call for sites among landowners, dozens of sites are ready for large-scale nature recovery. Currently 25% of the national park is managed for nature – the authority wants to increase this to 33% by 2030.

Mitigating for development is enshrined in law and offsetting activities are happening across the country. The Environment Act 2021, Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended) provide the legislative framework for the project, and the Habitats and Species Regulations afford the SDNPA powers as the competent authority to secure mitigation land that can be utilised to deliver nitrates and phosphates offsetting.

Developers with a need to purchase ReNature Credits for their upcoming projects, within or outside the national park, can acquire them through the SDNPA ReNature Credits brokerage service for phosphates, nitrates and biodiversity net gain. Carbon offsetting may also be introduced at a later date. The brokerage service is initially launching with two strategic sites: Iford Estate and Warnford Park Estate.

We want to be very clear that this is not about incentivising more development in and around the national park. This scheme will ensure that the sustainable development that does take place over the next decade will benefit nature and people locally, funnelling private investment into the places where it’s needed most. As this scheme grows over the next few years, it will also create new green jobs in the sector.

Through the Environment Improvement Plan 2023, the government has already set a goal to raise at least £500m in private finance to support nature’s recovery every year by 2027 in England, rising to more than £1bn by 2030. Given its unique place as both local planning authority and custodian of the landscape, the SDNPA can use its expertise to deliver strategic renaturing projects in partnership with landowners that have the Lawton principles at their core. By unlocking new finance for nature and supporting landowners with sustainable incomes, nature restoration can be planned and scaled in a way that has not been possible before.

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Image credit | iStock | Alamy




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