Policy Briefing: Marine Net Gain

Jacques Villemot

Friday 7 January 2022

Offshore wind farm with light blue sea and sky and a boat at the far end left bottom corner

The rapid expansion of offshore developments such as offshore wind made the development of biodiversity net gain concept opportune in solving long-lasting problems to the marine environment.

The RSPB believes that a marine net gain system will need to be developed following strict principles if it is to be truly beneficial for seabirds and marine biodiversity as a whole. Nature must be prioritised, and developments should still be subject to strict assessments of their impact on biodiversity before they are approved so net gain does not become a ‘license to trash’ the environment. Different considerations will also be needed depending on its application in a coastal setting or in an offshore one. Indeed, whereas active restoration has been proven effective for some intertidal habitats, such as saltmarshes, in a truly marine environment, the only proven method to allow for biodiversity gains is through the removal of pressures.

Our policy recommendations

  • Net gain cannot be allowed to undermine or replace current safeguards for nature, and government must implement these properly as an essential foundation for net gain.
  • The delivery of marine net gain must be guided by clearly defined strategic targets and requirements agreed by Governments, such as the ones the RSPB and partners have recommended.
  • These targets must deliver additional measurable benefits for biodiversity and could be reached by a combination of non-financial Government interventions and active interventions enabled by private funding.

This new interest in marine net gain represents a potential opportunity for our coastal and offshore biodiversity if it is developed following certain principles. Firstly, for a marine system to be beneficial, existing tools for the protection and recovery of marine biodiversity must be fully implemented and the flaws in their delivery addressed. These includes marine spatial planning, marine protected areas and the management of activities at sea, such as fisheries.

A marine net gain system must be implemented in addition to the effective and full delivery of the above and specifically reflect the unique requirements of marine environment. It will need to address specific challenges, notably that recovery in marine ecosystems requires the removal of pressures and that opportunities for active restoration beyond the intertidal zone are limited and largely experimental in nature.


The RSPB’s position

For a marine net gain system to be truly beneficial to biodiversity and support delivering healthy seas, the RSPB recommends the following considerations are embedded:

  • Adopt a nature first approach
  • Adhere to the mitigation hierarchy
  • Don’t copy the terrestrial system which won’t provide the strategic vision needed to manage our seas and won’t allow for public and private sectors to work together effectively.
  • Set clear requirements, objectives and strategic targets suitable for our seas
  • Ensure implementation of this system is clearly in addition to – not replacing – the delivery of existing government commitments


Working with representatives from other eNGOs, industry and government, the RSPB has contributed to the development of a set of strategic net gain targets for coastal and marine environments. These aim to guide governments in the development of principles for marine net gain, to ensure they are consistent with RSPB’s, truly benefiting birds and marine biodiversity as a whole.


Further reading:

Full report on RSPB recommendation for marine net gain strategic targets

For examples of coastal habitat restoration: Protecting, creating and restoring intertidal habitats (arcgis.com)

For other potential multi benefits solutions to help nature recover: https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/rspb-news/news/stories/climate-smart-fisheries-report/


Last Updated: Friday 7 January 2022


Coast on a stormy day

Kirsten Carter

Principal Policy Officer

Tagged with: Country: UK Topic: Policy Topic: Marine and intertidal