Although the parallel concept of biodiversity has long been established as an essential element in sustainable planning and management strategies, until relatively recently geodiversity was commonly taken for granted underpinning biodiversity.
However, the publication in 2005 of Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 9: Biodiversity and Geological Conservation, which sets out the Government’s national policies on the protection of biodiversity and geological conservation, introduces the concept of geodiversity into the planning process.
It is now stated clearly that both Regional Spatial Strategies and Local Development Frameworks must have regard to the national guidance on geodiversity set out in PPS9.
Complementary to PPS9, Planning for Biodiversity and Geological Conservation – A Guide to Good Practice (2006) provides guidance, via case studies and examples, on the ways in which regional planning bodies and local planning authorities can help deliver the national policies in PPS9 and comply with legal requirements.
The key principles in PPS9 require that planning policies and decisions not only avoid, mitigate or compensate for harm, but seek ways to enhance and restore biodiversity and geology. The guidance suggests ways in which these principles might be achieved.
These include identifying the geodiversity value of previously developed sites and the opportunities for incorporating this in developments, as well as recognizing areas of geological value, which would benefit from enhancement and management.
Geodiversity must be considered at every stage of the planning and development process, and at all scales (local, regional and national), following clear policy guidelines on the best ways to conserve it. Perhaps the greatest threat to geodiversity is inappropriate development.
New developments often destroy or conceal valuable geological exposures and disrupt the natural processes that helped form them. When any development – large or small – is proposed, planners should assess its potential impacts on geodiversity, take steps to mitigate any damage that cannot be prevented, and identify opportunities that might benefit geodiversity.
For example, some developments might allow the creation of more rock exposures, or offer an opportunity to re-establish natural systems; in others, planning permission may insist on mitigation, such as future monitoring and maintenance work.
Road improvement works may require the construction of new cuttings and such operations offer opportunities to reveal hitherto unexposed geological sections, either temporarily during construction, or as permanent features.
Geodiversity is not and should not be regarded merely as concerned with conservation of geological sites or features. As an essential part of natural heritage it influences fields as varied as economic development and historical and cultural heritage.