Iford is a Biodiversity Net Gain pioneer

Logo: CLM

By Anthony Weston, Farm & Environment Consultant, CLM

Man standing in a field
(Collin D Miller Photography)

Working with Iford Estate on its pioneering biodiversity net gain (BNG) project has been one of the most exciting pieces of professional work I’ve been involved in.

Iford is a beautiful 1,200ha estate in the South Downs National Park in East Sussex, which has an ambitious 30-year landscape-scale vision with nature recovery at its heart, using BNG as the main vehicle for securing the necessary investment.

The scheme will ultimately see about 800ha of land permanently dedicated to nature recovery, involving the generation of about 3,000 biodiversity units.

The vision came about thanks to the estate owners' desire to put the land to a more environmentally friendly use, help biodiversity and combat climate change. It's also a response to the falling returns available from mainstream agriculture.

It involves creating floodplain grazing marsh to provide habitat for breeding and wintering waders; providing species-rich grassland for rare plants, insects and mammals; and tree-planting on parts of the farm to link with existing woodland in this more sparsely wooded section of the South Downs.

Part of the attraction of the location for BNG is how it fits in the wider landscape. It's in a National Park, in the Ouse Valley, and adjacent to a Site of Special Scientific Interest and National Nature Reserve land. It also contains large areas of ‘priority’ habitats deemed to be of principal importance for the conservation of biodiversity by the UK Biodiversity Group. It's well placed to link these, allowing aggregated gain.

As such, it's part of a patchwork of natural and semi-natural habitats, rather than an island and gives us the opportunity to create ‘bigger, better and more joined-up’ habitats, in line with the principles set out in the Lawton Report, the influential review of England’s wildlife sites and the connections between them, published in 2010.

I’ve notched up 20-plus years’ experience creating and managing habitats, but this is without doubt one of the biggest and best nature creation, enhancement and restoration projects in the country, and it’s been a joy to support the Iford team, led by the forward-looking estate manager Ben Taylor.

The scheme draws on extensive habitat and species surveys conducted over the past few years, as well as historical mapping to determine land use patterns, soil sampling and hydrological assessments. We’ve conducted a series of baseline surveys, studies, modelling exercises and generated various habitat management proposals.

Countryside landscape with sheep
Iford Estate (James Ratchford)

In the summer of 2023, Iford signed an innovative Section 106 agreement with the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA), meaning 31ha of land – equating to 210 biodiversity units – became the first to appear on the SDNPA’s register of land formally ‘dedicated’ for BNG provision. We believe it was the first such agreement to designate land specifically for this purpose, ahead of the new mandatory BNG rules taking effect, so it felt momentous in the evolution of the ecosystem services market.

This Section 106 won’t lead to more development in the National Park, but it will mean that development happening elsewhere will benefit nature and people here, by drawing private investment into this very special place.

It was a completely new type of contract and, although other BNG Section 106 agreements won't look exactly the same as they need to be specific to the landowner and the local planning authority's wants and needs, this could be used as a template for agreements elsewhere.

It was the culmination of months of work but, in essence, it obliges the estate to cease the current management of this land and to implement a set habitat management plan, while counter-obliging the National Park to monitor that it is being correctly implemented.

It was the result of a huge effort by a range of experts, including the team at Iford, the SDNPA, Lux Nova Partners (a law firm specialising in the clean energy and environmental sectors) and Town Legal (a specialist planning law firm).

At all stages this project, Iford really highlights how ambitious endeavours such as this require input from a variety of professional disciplines. And we’re fortunate in that we have a range of specialists within CLM, spanning land agents, business consultants, planners, valuers, environmental experts, agriculturalists, ecologists and property experts. The terms ‘BNG’ and ‘natural capital’ might be new, but the principles are ones we've worked on for decades: effectively integrating successful environmental projects into thriving rural businesses.

Iford is already a diverse and inspirational landscape (recent surveys show more than 1,300 species on the estate, many with conservation status), but we will increase the range of species over the whole estate, whilst retaining food production as the principal land use on the most fertile land.

The estate has always placed a strong focus on protecting and enhancing the environment – and it’s now well on its way to becoming an exemplary landscape-scale restoration project.

Anthony Weston is a Director of CLM, a leading firm of farm and environment consultants. If you're interested in joining this expanding team working at the cutting-edge of BNG and other natural capital projects, email and see the website at  

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Posted On: 11/01/2024

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