Professor David Hill CBE | Growing The Environment Bank | Roles Available
David is chairman and founding owner of The Environment Bank Ltd which he set up in 2006 to introduce the concept of compensation, via biodiversity offsetting, habitat banking and net gain, into the UK because of his concerns at the way biodiversity was treated within the planning and development sector. In this interview for Ecology Jobs, David discusses his exciting work at The Environment Bank and how they are currently looking for new staff.
Career-Defining Opportunities Available
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EJs: So, David, what exactly is The Environment Bank?
The Environment Bank is something I set up back in 2006, because I was pretty disengaged with the way that the development sector was delivering biodiversity, or looking after biodiversity. I wanted to do something different.
The idea originally was to buy land and put it into conservation. But that was never going to work very well because often land very rarely comes up on the open market. And when it does, it’s often in the wrong place… So I decided, I’d go a longer lobbying route and use the environment to lobby the government to get biodiversity treated better within the Planning and Development control sector.
And so what we do now, is that we set up, both small but better still large scale habitats, at scale, to deliver for biodiversity, working with landowners, farmers, and conservation bodies, and then we sell the credits that we raised from that land to developers to enable them to be compliant with the up and coming mandatory law for biodiversity net gain.
“We’re investors in nature really, which is what we do we invest in nature, to create bigger sites that are beneficial for wildlife.”
Like all ecologists, we’re passionate about wildlife, but we are always are faced with two problems.
One is that we don’t have access to land really to do much on and one is we don’t have access to the money to do it, and we can’t rely really on the public sector, or even on the environmental NGO sector to deliver the dramatic changes that we need to see in transforming land and land use.
For nature conservation, we’ve got to have private investment into private landholdings at a big scale, and, this is one way that we can enable that we can do it.
“And so it’s incredibly exciting so no one else yet is doing it at the scale, we’re doing it. I’m sure that they will do in the future, but we’ve got a really good list of projects that we want to get off the ground and we’re obviously looking for the right types of people that can come and join us, and fulfill their own ambitions in that towards that end as well”.
EJs: And what might a typical project for the environment bank look like?
Well to start with we’re going to be doing habitat banking within a certain distance from development areas – where development demand is strongest. And then we negotiate works with landowners and farmers for setting up really important new land types that we put under habitat creation and management. They can be anything from wildflower meadows, big wildflower meadows, new woodlands wood meadows, rewilding – they tend to be even the bigger and larger ones – and wetlands Those five categories are what we’re aiming for.
“The best sites are where we take pretty denuded arable farmland and create new wildlife habitat at scale. And that’s where we get the biggest bang for our books”.
EJs: So for someone who’s particularly interested in joining The Environment Bank, what would be the difference of working for the environment bank than working in a typical ecological consultancy?
Well, if I’m really honest, I’ve sort of become a bit disenfranchised by the ecological consultancy sector because the only jurisdiction they have is within the development site boundary. And frankly, I found that not very exciting.
I think tweaking landscaping and planting and trying to say that really is true biodiversity isn’t really that good, what I want to see bigger sites creating really good wildlife habitat with a long-term future away from where the developments are taking place.
That doesn’t mean to say that, developments won’t actually maximize the value of the landscaping and planting, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get much biodiversity.
So what I’m keen on doing is creating something at scale which can bolt on to existing wildlife reserves nature reserves or can contribute to really important things that a private landowner is doing for nature conservation under agri-environment schemes.
So we demonstrate working for the environment; but we’re also about a bigger picture, around how you make space for nature.
And it’s, it’s not about being embedded in tweaking and messing around within the development site boundary to get to development through the planning system. To me, developers can just get to that anyway – but let’s get this big stuff created off-site.
EJs: I’m sure aspiring and experienced ecologists will be excited to hear this! What type of people do you think would thrive within The Environment Bank? What kind of skills and aptitudes are you looking for?
We need a range of people.
We need people that have an absolute passion for nature conservation, which I always thought, practically all ecological consultants will have, but we also want them to be commercial because I think for us ultimately we want to make nature economically visible.
And one of the reasons why I think we’ve suffered from a decline in biodiversity, over the last 50 years is that it hasn’t. We haven’t actually valued it, we know what the cost of biodiversity is if you like. Once you know the cost you know the price to create it. Then you really know the value of it so we tried to get that value chain embedded, and we think that people who understand that commercially can join us and make a really major contribution.
We also need good specialisms in some areas, not that everyone will need to know everything. And we also need people that can manage projects well, with a passion for seeing an end product that really does contribute to nature conservation in this country.
EJs: That sounds fantastic.