Spains Hall Estate, a family-run farming and environmental business in Finchingfield, shared their experiences of a 'pioneering' project to improve biodiversity.

The estate was one of five national case studies published by Natural England, showing how to create biodiversity gain on private land.

Having worked on nature recovery, beaver-led flooding reduction and a sustainable farming project, the estate has been at the forefront of testing new rules around biodiversity net gain (BNG), which come into force in early 2024.

The estate has identified land which is not suitable for farming and could be better used to halt nature decline and tackle climate change.

Dunmow Broadcast: A beaver at Spains Hall EstateA beaver at Spains Hall Estate (Image: Russell Savory)

Some of these areas will create 'biodiversity units' which can be sold to developers unable to meet the new biodiversity gain rules.

The estate is also working to create the biggest sustainable nut production system in the country - marking a shift from a standard farming system.

Archie Ruggles-Brise, the estate's manager and co-owner, said: “It is clear that we are facing significant challenges to the traditional farming approach in the East of England.

"Rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, longer droughts, more storms and increasing pest and disease pressures mean we have to think differently.

"Finding ways to pay the bills long term, whilst also transitioning quickly to a system that halts decline, is key.

"The BNG pilot has been invaluable in helping us build an estate-wide ecological masterplan to achieve this."

Natural England's national statutory biodiversity credits pilot scheme, which Spains Hall Estate successfully bid to be a part of in 2020, aims to balance nature, food production and local climate adaptation and mitigation.

This year the estate recruited an in-house ecologist, farmland ecological transformation specialist Sarah Brockless, who is currently leading detailed ecological tours of the estate.

These tours aim to assist fellow ecologists working with developers to meet the new BNG rules.

She explained: "Our approach is to see what would work best for the land. We then look at which schemes, and revenue sources might support the work we want to do.

"However, focusing on the land first, we have a greater chance at successfully delivering the full range of positive outcomes."

Simon Dilly, from Natural England, added: "Biodiversity net gain (BNG) is a world-leading government strategy to develop land and contribute to the recovery of nature and is a key element of the Environmental Improvement Plan.

"Spains Hall Estate was selected to be one of Natural England’s statutory biodiversity credits pilots, in preparation for mandatory BNG.

"We’ve particularly valued their work on how BNG fits with wider agricultural aims, traditional grazing, and agro-forestry.


"The collaborative work as part of the pilot scheme has been vital to the development of the statutory biodiversity credits policy, and of the BNG approach more broadly.

"BNG offers landowners another way to fund nature recovery on your land, alongside providing an alternative income stream to complement other business activities.

"Landowners can sell off-site biodiversity units to developers, provided that the habitat sites are registered and validated."